Sunday, March 7, 2010

Spinach Manicotti with Homemade Marinara

Mama mia, I'm turning into an Italian grandmother this week! Truth be told, you may have noticed how little I posted to this blog for a few weeks. I was going through a very rough patch but long-awaited good news (such a relief!) put me back in the cooking mood again. It's funny, but I do believe that my desire to cook and experiment in the kitchen, post recipes, and take pictures of dinner is a happiness barometer for me.

Last night, I tied on my apron and put together a spinach manicotti with what turned out to be the best marinara sauce I've ever made. It was a fluke as I just tossed what I had on hand into pots, bowls and pans but the result was so good, I wrote down everything I did quickly before I forgot it.

Here's what I did, but I encourage you to experiment and play with this basic recipe to make it your own.

First, put a big pot of water on to boil and cook about 8 manicotti noodles until just tender.

Next, lets get that marinara sauce started.

Into a blender or food processor, toss:

1 16 oz. can diced tomatoes -- preferably the kind seasoned with basil and garlic
1 small can tomato paste
2 peeled garlic cloves
1/4 - 1/2 of a rough chopped onion
a big handful of fresh basil

3 or 4 medium fresh for frozen tomatoes (when my fresh tomatoes begin getting to mushy for salads, I toss them into a Ziploc bag in the freezer to use for just such an occasion as this!)

Pour mixture into your biggest stock pot so that it can bubble and spurt and not get all over the store.

To this mixture add:

1 32 oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 -4 T. brown sugar (Start with 2 and then check to see if you want it a bit sweeter. )
1/4 c. picante sauce or salsa (this adds a nice bit of heat but not too much)
1/4 - 1/2 c. wine (I used red and just 1/4 c. because I don't like a real strong wine flavor, just a hint will do)
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring to boil, turn down heat and let simmer for 20 minutes or more until sauce is reduced to thickness desired. This makes more marinara than you'll probably need for this recipe so you can freeze any leftovers to use another time.

As the sauce is simmering and manicotti is boiling, mix together the following in a big bowl:

1/2 lb. ground beef and 1/2 lb Italian sausage, cooked and drained
1 16 oz ricotta cheese
3 cups loosely packed fresh spinach chopped (a food processor is handy for this)

(If you want to make this a vegetarian meal, you can sub chopped sauteed mushrooms for the beef. )

When manicotti ready and cooled, fill each "tube" with the beef-ricotta=spinach mixture. I usually just slit open the manicotti, pack it with filling and mash it back together, seam side down. Ladle a bit of the marinara in a casserole dish, and lay filled manicotti side by side. Top with desired amount of marinara sauce then sprinkle top with grated mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 until cheese is melted and just getting golden.

Serve with an extra ladle of marina and more Parmesan if desired.

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