Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's dinner for two: Manicotti


Valentine's Day, and what to make for dinner?

Not that long ago I posted a Thursday 13 of recipes I have on my to-do list. And of course, I then got distracted and haven't looked back at the list much in the past couple of weeks, other than the salad dressing recipes and a few ebelskiver omelettes I foisted on Seth last weekend... but when I was pondering what to make my love for Valentine's Day dinner, I knew the homemade manicotti I found on food52 would be a good option.

I culled pieces of the dish from various places. I knew I wanted more than just ricotta in my filling, so I found a spinach ricotta filling at epicurious.com to go along with the crepe recipe from food52. I relied on a jarred marinara and the whole dish came together quite quickly.

The first time I tasted manicotti with a crepe in place of a pasta tube was in 1988 in Sydney, Australia. I was on my own in the city, a squeak of a 19-year-old (well, was I ever a squeak? Maybe not...). I had just landed a studio apartment close to the city center and was gearing up to look for a job waiting tables when I happened upon an Italian restaurant on one of the main thoroughfares downtown. I sat down for dinner and did it up proper--manicotti for my main course and a blueberry ricotta cheesecake for dessert (is it any surprise that I remember this meal more than 20 years later? No, not if you know me.). Apparently I was already a cheese freak, and no one argued with me at the restaurant, of course. In fact, when I inquired about possible employment as I was paying my bill, the manager on duty told me to come back in the morning. I was hired on the spot by what turned out to be an exremely neurotic showgirl-turned-restauranteur's wife and so began a six-month adventure at Cafe Giovanni's.

Oh, but the crepe, the crepe. It made an impression. I didn't even know that a crepe was an option to wrap around the filling--Giovanni's also had a beef cannelloni as well--but I loved it the minute I tasted it. It was so fresh and seemed like the perfect vehicle for the ricotta--no thick, chewy pasta standing between me and my cheese!

Spinach-ricotta manicotti
Crepes
1 large egg
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups whole milk, plus more as needed to thin the batter

Filling
1 pound fresh or whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Asiago cheese (about 3 ounces)
3/4 cup chopped frozen baby spinach, thawed and drained, excess moisture pressed out
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 large egg

1 jar (28 oz) marinara sauce
Extra Asiago to sprinkle on top of pan prior to baking

Add the pasta ingredients to the bowl of a blender. Blend, adding more milk a bit at a time, until batter is a pourable consistency. Heat a nonstick 8-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Brush pan lightly with oil, if needed. Hold pan at an angle, and swirl pan as you pour in enough batter to coat bottom of skillet. Cook 30 to 45 seconds, flip and cook for 15 more seconds. And don’t forget, the first one or two might end up being sacrificial until you get the hang of swirling the pan.Transfer to a flat dish or tray. Repeat with remaining batter. You should have 8 to 10 crepes by the end.

For the filling, mix all the ingredients together until well blended. Once the crepes are cooked and cooled, spread a large spoonful of the filling mixture across the surface of each shell and spread it out before rolling each up into a long tube.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread a thin layer of marinara sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 baking pan. Place each rolled up crepe in the pan as you finish with them. Once the pan is filled with rolled up crepes, pour the remainer of the marinara on the crepes and sprinkle a half-cup of grated Asiago on top.

Bake in the oven until warmed through and bubbly, about 35-45 minutes, depending on your oven.

We ate our manicotti with a tossed green salad and breadsticks! Very amore!

Oh and this? This is what happens when chocolate cupcakes won't come out of their cute little heart molds. I'm posting this so you're not under any false impressions that everything turns out pretty in this kitchen. Not so. But it WAS still yummy. Chocolate cake and vanilla bean ice cream and strawberry freezer jam from a dear friend (thanks, Sara!). Layered and delish.

1 comment:

  1. I want me some of that!!!! When you were a child I used to make the store bought pasta kind of manicotti...not nearly so delightful.

    And the dessert is a great recovery from what could have been a written off disaster.

    You make me hungry!

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