When friends ask me for some make ahead meal ideas, one of my first recommendations are for stuffed or layered pastas such as stuffed shells, lasagna or even manicotti. For one, stuffed and layered pastas allow for a lot of improvisation. You’re able to get away with throwing random ingredients together mixed with a cheesy creamy filling, cover with sauce, top with cheese and bake away. These dishes are also great for freezing… and I’ve found that they make the best leftovers after the flavors have time to really meld.
One trick is to do what I’ve done with the recipe below. I used the dry manicotti shells, boiled them and allowed them to cool. Instead of fumbling with trying to fill the shell through the open ends, I just cut them open lengthwise, add the filling down one side and roll it up into a tube. It’s a perfectly filled tube every time. Alternately, you could use no-boil lasagna pasta sheets. You’ll need to allow the pasta sheets to soak in hot water in order to have them pliable to work with. Once they’re pliable and cool enough to work with, add the filling down one side and roll it up into a tube. I prefer using the manicotti tubes since resulted in a perfect pasta/filling ratio whereas using the lasagna pasta sheets tends to result in more pasta than filling. Another alternative is using jumbo pasta shells! But try what works best for you and see what you prefer!
Italian Sausage & Spinach Manicotti
recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
Manicotti pasta, cooked per package directions (or lasagna sheets or jumbo shells)
Meaty Tomato Sauce:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage, hot or sweet, casings removed
1/2 pound ground beef
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup finely chopped carrots
2 (28oz) cans crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
salt to taste
Spinach & Cheese Filling:
10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeeze dried
3 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 large eggs, beaten
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
14 dry manicotti shells
1 cup grated parmesan cheese for topping
Plug in the IP with insert set in place.
Add the garlic, onions and carrots to the meat and cook until fragrant but not brown, 3-4 minutes.
Stir in crushed tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer until thickened slightly, about 5-7 minutes.
Stir in basil and parsley; adjust seasoning with salt.
Transfer sauce to a large bowl and clean out IP insert. Return insert to IP.
For the spinach & cheese filling: Combine spinach, ricotta, 1 cup Parmesan, mozzarella, eggs, salt, pepper, and herbs in medium bowl; set aside.
Press MANUAL and adjust the time to 20 minutes on HIGH pressure.
Once at pressure, the display will reflect 20 (the number of minutes you initially set) and will begin to countdown to 0 minutes.
Preheat your broiler as you wait for the pin to drop and all pressure is released from the IP.
Open up your IP when the pin has dropped (allow a few minutes for this to happen).
Meanwhile, preheat broiler.
Remove springform pan from IP and uncover.
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