Archive for February, 2011


February 21, 2011

This started as a family recipe, but circumstances (and a lack of respect for traditions and a need to cut corners) conspired to force me to go off-script.

Here is the original recipe:

12 manicotti pasta shells
3/4 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp chopped parsley
1 egg white
2 cups tomato juice
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried basil

Mash ricotta with milk and parsley, add other cheeses, mix. Beat egg white fork until frothy, add to cheese mixture.

Combine tomato juice, tomato paste and spices, cover and cook over low heat for several minutes.

Cook shells in boiling water and drain.

Spoon layer of tomato sauce over bottom of baking dish. Stuff cheese mixture into the shells arrange shells side by side. Top with the remainder of the tomato sauce. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

So much for the instructions. Here is where we meet reality.

The recipe calls for 12 shells, but there are 14 shells in a box. Oops.

So I have to make some adjustments.

Also, timing is important, so here is the workflow:

First, I start the water going. Then I do the tomato sauce.

I hate measuring, in part because it means dirtying yet another dish. I don’t measure the tomato paste, I just use a 12 oz can of tomato paste. I don’t measure the tomato juice, either. I dump the tomato paste into the pan, then slowly pour the thinner tomato juice into the pan, mixing as I go. It is easier (MUCH easier) to thin a thick paste than it is to add a thick paste to a thin juice and try to mix. I pour the juice in until I get a sauce of the consistency that I want. (As an aside, when you heat the sauce, the thicker sauce has a greater likelihood of a big splatter than a thinner sauce.) Then I add the spices, a bit more generously than the recipe describes (partly because I am making more sauce). Also, I use chopped garlic (and quite a bit of it) instead of garlic powder. Then it is time to simmer the sauce.

At some point, the water is boiling and I add the shells.

Once the sauce is simmering, I start on the cheese filling. I don’t know whether the shells I am filling are bigger than the ones used in the original recipe, but even doubling the recipe still leaves an empty shell or two, so I have to go over doubling the filling, so it is more guesswork than measuring. Second, I don’t buy parsley. I don’t use enough of it ever to want to spend the money. So I use oregano. Yes, that is a completely different spice, but it works for us.

The tough part for me is keeping the shells intact when draining. Last night’s dinner only had two intact shells out of the 14. Worst showing ever. Still tastes as good, but still… Anyone with tips on getting them out intact?

The rest is following the instructions – baking dish, sauce, line up the shells, cover with more sauce, and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Then eat!

Even with more than doubling the recipe, the large container that the ricotta cheese comes in still has more cheese left in it, so what to do? I have another recipe coming soon!