After a fabulous welcome last week at I Heart Cooking Clubs for our new chef, Giada de Laurentiis, this week we're serving it up family style. With potentially a pasta dish in mind, I went trawling online for a suitable recipe and came across Giada's recipe for Beef & Cheese Manicotti. The recipe is from her Everyday Italian book, but you can also find it online here.
Now, this recipe does have a few steps to it and may seem a bit complicated for a mid-week meal, but in fact each one of those steps really takes no time at all, and there is plenty that can be prepared in advance. That said, I had actually decided last weekend (when I made my menu plan for the week) that I was going to have this for dinner on Thursday night, so I scheduled little tasks ahead of time, and with just that little bit of forward planning this turned out to be the perfect "ready-to-go", mid-week meal by the time Thursday rolled around. Here's what I did ...
Tuesday, I made the ricotta - time taken, approximately 15 minutes, and then leave it alone for an hour. Of course, this is an entirely unnecessary step and store bought ricotta is perfectly fine, but if you have 15 minutes to spare the satisfaction gained from making your own far outweighs the time invested. You can read more about my homemade ricotta here.)
Wednesday, I took the last pot of marinara sauce I made at the end of last summer out of the freezer to thaw - time taken, approximately 15 seconds. Use any marinara sauce you like - quite coincidentally the recipe I used to make mine was one of Giada's that I found on the Food Network website here.
I also began my filling - the original recipe called for beef, but having decided I wanted a vegetarian version I simply subbed mushrooms in place of the ground beef. Chopping and slicing shallots & mushrooms, and then sauteeing until starting to brown and soften - about 15 minutes. While the mushrooms are cooling the rest of the filling ingredients can be prepared and then the whole lot can be refrigerated till the next day.
Thursday, I made the manicotti - now you could buy those shells that you stuff, but these were so quick and easy to make that it would have taken me longer to go out and buy the shells. What's more it is a heck of a lot easier to roll your filling up in these than it is trying to pfaff (is that a real word?) around boiling and then trying to stuff those manicotti tubes. Making batter and cooking the manicotti - time taken, about 10-15 minutes - I adapted this recipe from Jaime & Jen Dish for the manicotti.
Then filling the manicotti and assembling the dish took just a few minutes more. Now I had dinner ready to go in the oven as soon as I finished work - 30 minutes in the oven (just enough time to dress a few salad leaves and pour a glass of wine) and dinner was served.
Truly, if you follow this process logically, it's not a difficult or arduous dish and I'm pretty sure you will find that this will be a real family favourite - I know for sure that I will be making this again (many times) and it will definitely be a "go to" dish when I have to feed a crowd. I really hope you make it for your family - I know you won't be disappointed.
Mushroom & Cheese Manicotti
Adapted from recipe by Giada de Laurentiis
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
For the filling:
olive oil for frying
500g (1lb) button mushrooms, sliced
salt & freshly ground black pepper
400g (15oz) ricotta
3 cups grated mozzarella
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
For the manicotti (makes about 10-12):
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup water
generous pinch of salt
3 cups marinara sauce
First make the filling. Heat approximately 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add shallots and mushrooms to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and saute until the mushrooms begin to soften and release their juices. Keep cooking until the mushrooms have re-absorbed most of the liquid. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, mix together the ricotta, two-thirds of the mozzarella, half the parmesan, and the parsley. Add the garlic, then season to taste with salt and pepper. When cooled, add the mushroom mixture to the cheese mixture and combine well.
Now, onto the manicotti. Sift flour and salt into a bowl, and make a well in the centre. Whisk eggs and water together in a small jug, then pour slowly into the flour, whisking constantly, until you have a smooth, lump-free batter which has roughly the consistency of runny cream. Add a little more water if it is too thick.
Heat a pan over high heat and, using a small "dob" of butter on a paper towel, lightly grease the pan. I suggest you begin by cooking off just a teaspoon of the mixture and then tasting so that you can adjust the salt in the batter if necessary. Now ladle in a large spoonful of batter into the pan and immediately swirl it around to form a circle. As soon as the surface of the manicotti looks "dry" and it is starting to lift around the edges (probably about 45-60 seconds), flip it over and cook the other side which will really only take about half as much time (possibly even less). Remove to a plate, and keep cooking the manicotti one at a time, greasing the pan in between each one.
Unless you are doing these in advance, you could be preheating your oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F) while you are cooking the manicotti.
To assemble the dish, grease a 23cm x 34cm (9in x 11in) baking dish, and spoon half of the marinara sauce over the bottom of the dish.
Fill the manicotti by spooning some of the mushroom and cheese mixture in a line down the centre of the manicotti and then rolling it up like a pancake. Then arrange the filled pasta, seam side down, in a single layer on top of the marinara sauce.
Pour the remaining marinara sauce over the top, and then cover with the remaining mozzarella and parmesan. Dot little pieces of butter all over the top.
Bake, uncovered, in the preheated oven until everything is hot and bubbling, all the cheese has melted, and the top is golden brown - about 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to stand for about 5 minutes before serving - that wait will be tough, but it will be so worth it!!
Interested in getting to know Giada a bit better? Then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and see what they've all been cooking up ....
.... or check out Giada's Kitchen and many of her other titles, available from Amazon, Book Depository UK and Fishpond NZ