When I was pregnant, I prepared and froze meals to heat up after the baby was born. The baby is now a sprouting 9 month old and I still prepare frozen meals. It’s a great way to ensure that there’s always food in the house without worrying about spoilage. My favorite freezer meals are of the Italian-inspired variety. While, I usually always make lasagna, I wanted to change things up and try manicotti.
And, while I usually use store-bought marinara, I was all out and made my own. With simple ingredients cooked slowly, the resulting sauce was astounding. Full of flavor and fresh unlike some jarred sauces you may run across. I can’t wait to try more variations for different types of pasta dishes!
Spinach & Cheese Manicotti
adapted from Allrecipes.com
- 1 (8 oz) package of manicotti shells
- 1 (15 oz) container of ricotta cheese
- 1 (10 oz) package of frozen spinach, thawed, drained, squeezed dry and chopped
- 1/2 cup onion, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp parsley, minced
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 big pinch of nutmeg
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded (divided)
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (divided)
- 4 cups marinara sauce, recipe below
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- In a large bowl, mix together ricotta, spinach, onion, garlic, egg, parsley, pepper, salt, garlic powder, and nutmeg until well combined. Stir in 1 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.
- In a 9 x 13 baking dish, spread 1 cup of marinara sauce. Spoon the filling into a large plastic or piping bag. Snip the corner and squeeze the filling into the uncooked manicotti shells.
- Place each filled shell into the marinara sauce. Fill up the remaining shells and lay them over the marinara in a single layer.
- Cover the pasta with the remaining marinara. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese over the pasta dish. (If you want to make a freezer meal, stop here and cover for freezing.)
- Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for an additional 15 minutes.
barely adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 2 (32 oz) cans crushed tomatoes
- 2 dried bay leaves
- In a large casserole pot, heat the oil over a medium-high heat.
- Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
- Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon of each salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
- Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour.
- Remove and discard the bay leaf. Season the sauce with more salt and pepper, to taste.
We all have our happy places, don’t we? It’s slipping into your favorite pajamas and socks after a long day’s work and just planting it in front of the TV. Or, the spot between my puppy’s neck and shoulder that seems to be the best place for a nuzzle. Lately, watching my kid belly laugh while I ‘gobble up’ his feet. And, a big bowl of macaroni and cheese.
I’m quite picky about my macaroni and cheese. So many people make it incorrectly, don’t you think? Sometimes it’s too watery (the worst) or too dry (big no no). The best mac and cheese has cheese – and, a lot of it. Not just cheese sauce, but the cheese blend that coats each nook and cranny of a macaroni.
While I have only enjoyed the traditional macaroni and cheese, with my new pesto stash, I wanted to experiment and give one of my favorite dishes a different flavor profile without sacrificing the creamy-cheesy foundation of the dish. And, while I wanted to stop at several steps ahead, proclaiming it’s perfect, keep going. Adding the roasted red bell pepper and the crunchy buttery topping will only build upon the flavors. But, for some reason if you didn’t have the ingredients or didn’t want to mix in the red peppers or the Panko crust, just know that it’s delicious on its own, as well.
Pesto Macaroni and Goat Cheese with Roasted Red Peppers
loosely adapted from Aida Mollenkamp
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp basil pesto
- 2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 3/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
- 3 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 8 ounces goat cheese
- 2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1/2 cup basil pesto
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 4 roasted red bell peppers, drained and diced (recipe below)
- Heat a large dutch oven over low heat. Once melted, add the shallow and garlic and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in the 1 tbsp of pesto, red pepper flakes, bread crumbs and 3 tbsp of Parmesan and mix to combine. Place the crumb mixture in a small bowl and set aside.
- In a large pot of heavily salted water, cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Drain and reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water.
- Using the same pan, add the half and half and bring to a simmer on the same low heat. You want the mixture to simmer, thicken and reduce, about 5 minutes. Add the shredded mozzarella. Whisk until the cheese has melted and no clumps remain. Add the goat cheese to the cheese mixture and whisk until smooth. Stir in the remaining Parmesan cheese and whisk until melted.
- Add the cooked pasta to the cheese mixture and stir until incorporated. Mix in the 1/2 cup basil pesto, pasta water, salt and pepper. Mix gently to ensure it is evenly distributed and coated. Add additional salt and pepper if you need.
- Gently stir in the roasted peppers until evenly distributed.
- Top with the crumb mixture.
- Place under the dutch oven broiler for no more than 2 minutes until the crust has browned. (If you haven’t been using a dutch oven, just transfer the pasta to a baking dish and place in the oven.) Remove from broiler and let it cool about 5 minutes before serving.
Roasted Red Bell Peppers
adapted from Ina Garten
- 4 red bell peppers
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- Preheat oven to 500F.
- Arrange bell peppers on a baking sheet.
- Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, until skin is charred and wrinkled. Turn them twice during cooking.
- Remove from the oven and immediately place in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap.
- Let it sit for about 30 minutes, or until the peppers are cool enough to handle.
- Once cooled, remove the stem, seeds and skin, and place the peppers in a bowl with any juices. Pour the oil over the peppers and store in the refrigerator.
First impressions are a funny thing. I remember, as a freshman in high school, hearing one of the most beautiful girls in the school proclaim that she bases all her friendships and any potential relationships on first impressions. “I don’t care if it’s unfair. If I don’t like you from first talking to you, I’m never going to talk to you again.” I still remember these words. While harsh, I actually wondered whether she had a point. All our lives we are judged on first impressions, including dates and interviews. Interactions that decide the most important parts of our lives are truly governed by the first impressions. So, was there any truth to what she said?
After 30 years of life experience, I call B.S. on her theory.
According to Binks, if he had judged me based on his first impression, he would not have talked to me ever again. I obviously thought differently of our first interaction. I was so shy and nervous that when he called me, I sat on the phone quietly for most of the conversation. Me being quiet is not the normal if you have ever met me. But, I did. And if it was anyone else, he wouldn’t have called again. But, because Binks would be the last person to judge a person from a first impression, he called again. And, six years and a baby later, the rest is history.
Less importantly, I hated pesto the first time I tried it. That’s what happens when you try to make pesto out of a powder mix from a “pasta creation” box. Disgusting. Extremely pungent (not in a good way), bitter and salty. After having some basil left over from making pizza sauce, I decided to give it a second try.
Controlling the levels of the different ingredients, I was able to create a product that was creamy yet bold, without any harsh flavors to distract from the bright basil. Since making it, I have been using it on everything I can find. Ranging from pesto pasta with vegetables and roasted pesto potatoes, I’m in love with this pesto.
adapted from Simply Recipes
- 4 medium cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup pine nuts (or walnuts), roasted and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 cups basil leaves, packed tight
- 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- pinch of black ground pepper
- pinch of salt, more as required
- In a food processor, add minced garlic and pulse about 2-3 times to break down the garlic further.
- Add pine nuts (or walnuts) and process until finely ground.
- In a thin stream, slowly incorporate half of the olive oil while the food processor is running.
- Add basil and puree until smooth.
- Slowly pour in the remaining olive oil until incorporated.
- Add the cheese, pepper, and salt and process until fully blended.
- Test for salt and add if required.
It’s rare that I make pasta any other way than drenched with a beautiful red sauce. Sometimes, red sauce seems more fitting for the fall and winter seasons. Recently I look towards more simpler and lighter pasta dishes, without having to give up any flavor. And, with this pasta, you get quite a looker too.
Fine strands of pasta covered in parmesan cheese and flakes of panko bread crumbs offer richness, while the chile and lemon infused oil add depth and vibrancy. The addition of fresh arugula adds a peppery bite without adding any weight to the dish. Beautiful, delicious and perfect for a main course or to be served alongside a shrimp scampi, like I did when we had company over.
Angel Hair Pasta with Chile Lemon Oil and Arugula
slightly adapted from Shutterbean via Tyler Florence
Serves approximately 6 people
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
- 2 cups panko bread crumbs
- salt and fresh cracked pepper
- 5 cloves garlic, slivered
- 1 tsp red chili flakes (I used 3 tsp because I like more heat. Adjust for your taste.)
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 1 pound angel hair pasta
- 6 cups arugula
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- In a skillet over medium heat, add two tablespoons of the olive oil. Then, add the breadcrumbs and stir to toast until golden brown. Add salt and pepper to mix in. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Wipe the pan clean and put it back on the stove over medium heat. Add the 1/2 cup olive oil, garlic and chile flakes. Cook for about 3 minutes to make sure the olive oil is infused with the garlic and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the lemon zest and cook for another 2-3 minutes until the oil becomes fragrant. Remove from heat.
- In a large pot, cook pasta to al dente (it shouldn’t take more than 3-4 minutes). Drain and place in a large bowl.
- To the pasta, add the chili infused oil, lemon juice, arugula, toasted bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.
- Gently, using tongs, stir everything together.