Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stuffed Manicotti

Here we go.  Now we are speaking my language.  Fine Italian cuisine.  Pasta stuffed with fresh herbs and packed tightly with multiple cheeses, drenched in a nice bright red sauce and smothered in a nutty blanket of cheese.  There are few things in this world that excites me even close to what this dish does for me.   And that was exactly the reason that I chose this particular dish as our main course this year for our Christmas Dinner.  Alright.  And the fact that is was perfectly color coordinated to fit the occassion as well.  I could not let that one go unnoticed.

12 large uncooked manicotti pasta shells
4 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese (divided)
2 cups of ricotta cheese
1/4 cup or so of fresh basil (chopped)
1 tsp. of fresh lemon juice (just a little bit to brighten it up)
1 T. of extra virgin olive oil
1- 15oz. can of diced tomatoes (drained and mashed)
1 clove of garlic (minced)
1 T. of dried Italian seasonings
1- 29oz. can of tomato sauce
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
fresh parsley for garnish (chopped)

-Preheat your oven to 350*.  Grease a 9x13" baking dish and set aside.  Prepare your pasta to Al dente as directed on the back of their box.  Once finished, rinse with cold water and lay out on a paper towel-lined counter top to dry (keeps the filling from sliding out while you are trying to stuff them).  Meanwhile, for you filling, mix together 2 cups of the mozzarella cheese, the ricotta, the fresh basil and the lemon juice in a large mixing bowl.  Using a teaspoon (I use an ice tea spoon-it's longer and narrower), stuff the pasta tightly with the filling.  In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, heat up the e.v.o., once you can smell it, toss in the drained and mashed diced tomatoes, garlic and the Italian seasonings.  Simmer them for about 2-3 minutes then pour in the tomato sauce.  Bring this to a good boil then remove from the heat.  Pour half of this into the greased baking dish.  Pile in the stuffed pasta and cover with the remaining red sauce and the last 2 cups of mozzarella cheese.  Bake at 350* for 15 minutes, remove, cover the top with the Parmesan cheese and finish it off back in your oven for about 5-10 minutes more.  Remove from the oven and garnish the top with fresh chopped parsley.  Serves 4-6.  Enjoy!

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