STORY: Around midweek is when I start thinking about getting into the kitchen and cooking up something complicated. For about a month I couldn’t stop thinking about stuffed shells. Then that turned into buying fresh pasta and making cannelloni or manicotti. Then it all turned into a reality when I visited A&S deli in Island Park. The owner gave me FRESH manicotti sheets. He even told me to make a bolognese with brandy or cognac. It’s an ingredient that I never thought of adding to my sauce! I also found good quality ricotta cheese. After a few hours in the kitchen, my midweek fantasy about a big Italian feast came out to be a delicious reality. This recipe takes time and a little bit of effort, so don’t get turned off or frustrated!
Manicotti filling and sauce
- 1 pound good quality ricotta cheese
- bunch of basil
- bolognese sauce (recipe to follow)
- fresh manicotti sheets
- 2 cups spinach
- 1 cup arugula
- 1 small onion
- 5-6 minced garlic cloves, separated
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 ounces brandy or cognac
- 1 quart milk
- 3 tablespoons of flour
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 small minced garlic clove
- 1 bay leat
- 1/4 cup good quality parmesan cheese
Sauté olive oil, onions and half the garlic for about 8 minutes or until they start getting nice and brown and caramelized. Add ground meat and let it brown. Once it’s cooked add the brandy or cognac.
Pour in homemade tomato sauce. Let simmer.
Make the béchamel by sautéing the onion in the butter. Add in three table spoons of flour and whisk until flour cooks through. Pour in milk, and add bay leaf. Keep whisking so the flour incorporates into the liquid, then add cheese and let simmer until thick. Grate in nutmeg and set aside.
In the meantime, sauté the spinach and arugula with some salt, pepper and olive oil and the rest of the garlic. Let cool. Once cooled, add the greens to the ricotta cheese. Mix in salt and pepper, egg, and a couple of splashes of cooled bechamél sauce.
Here comes the assembly!
Pour about of the bechamél sauce and some meat sauce onto the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking pan.
Place the ricotta mixture onto one end of the fresh manicotti and roll up. Place on top of the bechamél and meat sauces. Continue process until the pan is lined with your beautiful manicotti. Pour the rest of the meat sauce over them and drizzle the rest of the bechamél over it. Sprinkle with some parmesan cheese.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pan covered with foil inside and let cook for 40 minutes. Take the foil off for the last 10 minutes so the top gets nice and golden brown.
Let cool, decorate with fresh basil and enjoy!