Sunday, February 6, 2011

Spinaci e Tre Formaggi Manicotti

     These manicotti are made the old fashioned way with crespelli instead of pre-made manicotti pasta shell.  Cannelloni is made with pasta and not crepelli.  A classic tre formaggi is used in this recipe.  The spinach should be wilted by dipping in boiling water and not olive oil.  Oily spinach would ruin the texture of the 3 cheese mixture.
     An award winning NY Italian chef from Sicily showed me how to make the tre formaggi for manicotti.  The cheese mixture should never be seasoned with salt or pepper.  Those seasonings would ruin the delicate flavor and texture of the cheese.  Only fresh chopped parsley or fresh chopped basil is added.  For spinach manicotti, chopped wilted spinach is added instead.
     You can bake the manicotti in a large casserole dish and serve the manicotti in the same casserole dish.  This is the best way to cook and serve manicotti.
     The method that I used for this recipe is to bake the manicotti till they are almost fully cooked, then the manicotti were transferred to a serving plate.  The manicotti were then topped with sauce and cheese.  The manicotti finishes baking on the serving plate.  It is very easy for disasters to happen, when transferring manicotti to a plate.  Things like a manicotti splitting open or the cheese filling falling out.  If you do use this method, then carefully slide the manicotti from the flat baking pan onto the plate that the manicotti will be finished baking on.  Never try to pick the manicotti up with a short spatula!   Use an extra long spatula.
     Salsa di Pomodoro Recipe:  
     This recipe makes about 4 or 5 portions of sauce!
     Heat a pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add about 5 to 6 ounces of olive oil.  (The olive oil proportion should be about 1/10 of the volume of the tomatoes.) 
     Add 8 cloves of finely chopped garlic.
     Add 1/2 cup of finely minced onion.
     Saute till the onions turn clear in color, but do not let the onions brown.
     Add 1 pinch of crushed dried red pepper.
     Add a 28 ounce can of good quality imported Italian crushed plum tomatoes.
     Place a 28 ounce can of imported whole Italian plum tomatoes or San Marzano tomatoes that are packed in their own juices into a mixing bowl.  
     Hand squeeze and crush the tomatoes, till no big chunks remain.
     Add the hand squeezed tomatoes and juices to the pot.  
     Add 4 pinches of oregano.
     Add sea salt and ground black pepper.
     Add 1/4 cup of finely chopped fresh basil.
     Add 2 tablespoons of minced Italian parsley.  
     Add 1 cup of Italian dry red wine.  
     Heat the sauce and stir, till it starts to gently boil.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Leave the pot uncovered.  (Never cover a pot of Italian tomato sauce with a lid, or the sauce will become stewed tomatoes!)  
     Slowly simmer the sauce and stir the sauce once every 5-7 minutes for 4 hours.  
     The sauce should be simmering gently and there should be very little bubbling on the surface.  Scrape the sides of the inside of the pot back into the sauce too.  That stuff is full of flavor!  
     After 4 hours, the flavors will meld and the tomato sauce will become a medium thin tomato sauce consistency.  The excess tomato juices should be reduced into the sauce at this point.  The olive oil should be well combined with the tomatoes, because the sauce was stirred often.
     Keep the sauce warm over very low heat or reheat the sauce to order.
     Note:  For a very smooth salsa di pomodoro, allow the sauce to cool, then run the sauce through a hand turned food mill into a container.  Some people like a smooth Italian tomato sauce! 
     Crespelli Recipe:
     This recipe makes several cespelli!
     Place 2 eggs in a mixing bowl.
     Add 5 ounces of milk.
     Add enough flour while whisking to form a thin crepe batter.  The batter should evenly coat the back of a spoon.
     Add sea salt.
     Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil while whisking.  (No sugar and no butter is needed!  For manicotti the crespelli should not taste sweet.)
     Heat a non-stick saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Brush the pan with olive oil.
     Pour enough crespelli batter into the pan, to make a thin crepe.  (About 1 1/2 to 2 ounces.)
     Tilt the pan to even the edges of the crepe.
     Flip the crepe.  (Do not brown the crepes for manicotti.  The crepelli should look like a pale pasta color.
     Set the crespelli aside on a counter top.
     Tre Formaggi:
     This recipe is enough for about 4 manicotti!  Never add salt or pepper to tre formaggi or the delicate "sweet" flavor of the cheese will be lost! 
     Place 15 ounces of ricotta cheese in a mixing bowl.
     Add 3 ounces of finely grated parmesan cheese.
     Add 5 ounces of grated mozzarella cheese.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced Italian parsley.
     Add 1 whisked egg.
     Mix the ingredients together.
     Chill the tre formaggi mixture in a refrigerator.  
     Heat 1/2 cup of water in a saute pan over medium heat.
     Add 1 1/2 cups of baby spinach leaves.
     Stir the spinach till it wilts.
     Use tongs to place the wilted spinach on a cutting board.
     Use a dry towel to blot any excess water off of the spinach.
     Finely chop the wilted spinach.
     Add the chopped spinach into the quattro formaggi mixture.
     Spinaci e Quattro Formaggi Manicotti Recipe:
     Place 2 crespelli side by side on a counter top.
     Place equal amounts of the spinach cheese mixture across the middle of the crepelli.  (About 4 to 5 ounces of cheese mixture per manicotti.)
     Roll the crepelli into a tube shape.
     You can use either a casserole dish or baking pan to bake the manicotti.
     Brush a baking pan with olive oil.
     Place a small amount of the tomato sauce on the baking pan.
     Place the manicotti on top of the tomato sauce with the seam of the crespelli shells facing down.
     Trim the ends of the manicotti with a knife, so they are even.
     Bake the manicotti in a 350º oven, till the cheese mixture just starts to puff up and become firm.  (Do not let the manicotti turn brown!)
     Remove the pan from the oven.
     Slide and transfer the manicotti onto a serving plate.  (If you used a casserole dish, then just leave the manicotti in the casserole dish.)
     Spoon a generous amount of the tomato sauce over the middle of the manicotti.
     Sprinkle some grated mozzarella and grated parmesan cheese over the tomato sauce.
     Return the manicotti to the 350º oven.
     Bake until the cheese melts.  (Do not let the cheese brown!  Burnt cheese has a very bitter flavor.)
     Remove the manicotti from the oven.
     Let the manicotti cool for 2 minutes before serving.
     Sprinkle some finely chopped Italian parsley on the manicotti.
     Deliciously Italian!  Manicotti is one of the most popular classic Italian baked pasta entrees.  The spinach flavor combines with the cheese flavors in a very nice way.  The classic salsa pomodoro is the best sauce for manicotti.  Marinara is a good manicotti sauce, but the extra oil will separate.  This is a nice baked pasta to share with guests.  Yum!  Ciao Baby!  ...  Shawna    

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