There must be something in the water. Or maybe it has something to do with this crazy winter weather we're experiencing in Alaska. In any event, it is now the season of BABIES. So many of my girlfriends are either pregnant right now, or just gave birth to happy, healthy sons and daughters. For me, this translates roughly to: the season of the deliverable meal. I may not have any experience when it comes to rearing newborns, but I have boatloads of experience feeding people. As I like to say, I play to my strengths.
My friends Mera and Chester's beautiful daughter Opal is now three weeks old. I delivered this meal to them the day after they arrived home with their new plus one. A couple days later, I stopped by to check in on the family and Chester said to me, with complete sincerity: "Heidi, that manicotti has kept us alive for the past three days." Mission accomplished.
A meal on the go must be: easy to assemble, filling, tasty, and transportable. My favorite deliverable meals have got to be my creamy tomato soup and this manicotti recipe that delivers a lot of bang for the buck. I love it because its composed of relatively inexpensive ingredients, a snap to put together, and tastes delicious. Plus I think it's a great way to sneak some hidden veggies into a kid-friendly meal.
Making it is simple. The filling consists of mozzerella and ricotta cheeses, chopped spinach, egg, milk, dried oregano, salt and pepper. Pour half of a jar of good bottled marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch pan. Take dry manicotti tubes and fill them with the ricotta/spinach mixture. I usually just use my clean hands- a cook's best tools. Don't be shy to stuff the manicotti to the gills- I usually have a little filling leftover even after stuffing them with as much filling as I can.
Line the pan with the manicotti. Pour the other half of the marinara over the shells. Then pour 1 cup of water or tomato juice evenly over the dish (I usually add the water or tomato juice to the empty jar of marinara and shake it up to make sure I get all the good stuff out of the jar first before pouring it over the shells). This will add moisture to help cook the shells- it's a pretty clever trick I picked up. Top the dish with the remaining mozzerella and Parmesan.
Cover the dish with foil and bake at 375 degrees for an hour. Let the dish sit for 10 minutes or so before serving. I like to serve it with a caesar salad and crusty Italian bread. It's the perfect family supper, whether your kids are 2 years old or 22 years old!
2 1/2 c. shredded mozzerella cheese
1- 15 oz. carton ricotta cheese
1- 10 oz. package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry with paper towels
1 egg, beaten
1/4 c. milk
1 t. dried oregano
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
1 package manicotti (14 shells)
1/4 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
1 jar marinara sauce (26 oz.)
1 c. tomato juice or water
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix together 1 1/2 cups of the mozzerella, ricotta, spinach, egg, milk, oregano, salt, and pepper. Stuff mixture into uncooked manicotti shells, making sure to fill them completely. Spray the bottom of a 9x13 inch pan with nonstick spray. Pour 1/2 of the marinara sauce in the bottom of the pan. Line the pan with the filled manicotti shells. Pour the rest of the marinara over the top of the shells. Pour the tomato juice or water into the half-filled jar of marinara, shake it up, and pour it evenly over the shells. Top the dish with the remaining 1 cup of mozzerella, and the Parmesan cheese. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 1 hour. (You can remove the foil in the last 5 or 10 minutes of baking if you want the top to be a little more golden brown). Let the dish set for 10 minutes before eating.
Enjoy! xo H