Category Archives: Sauces

Spinach & Cheese Manicotti with Homemade Marinara Sauce

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


  • 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


  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Place each filled shell into the marinara sauce.  Fill up the remaining shells and lay them over the marinara in a single layer.
  5. 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.)
  6. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes.  Remove the foil and cook for an additional 15 minutes.

Marinara Sauce

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


  1. In a large casserole pot, heat the oil over a medium-high heat.
  2. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon of each salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
  4. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour.
  6. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Season the sauce with more salt and pepper, to taste.





Filed under Italian, Pasta, Sauces, Vegetarian

Basil Pesto

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.

Basil 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


  1. In a food processor, add minced garlic and pulse about 2-3 times to break down the garlic further.
  2. Add pine nuts (or walnuts) and process until finely ground.
  3. In a thin stream, slowly incorporate half of the olive oil while the food processor is running.
  4. Add basil and puree until smooth.
  5. Slowly pour in the remaining olive oil until incorporated.
  6. Add the cheese, pepper, and salt and process until fully blended.
  7. Test for salt and add if required.



Filed under Pasta, Sauces, Uncategorized