Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sausage and Cheese Manicotti

I always feel like pasta is a relatively easy dish to make (Italians would hate me for saying that), but it seems it's easy to make a package of spaghetti and open up a jar of sauce. BUT...having said that, it's nothing like the real, homemade dish you get when you take the time to make every layer of flavor (including the sauce). This dish is the epitome of delicious, full-flavored Italian food. It was great the night we made it and even better 3-days later when I was finishing up the last bite at lunch (pasta is my all time favorite leftover to take for lunches). Yum!

Sausage and Cheese Manicotti

from Bon AppetitRagu
12 oz Italian sweet sausage - about 3 1/2 sausages (I used spicy sausage!)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup dry white wine

1 - 28oz can Italian plum tomatoes with basil
1/8 tsp. dried, crushed red pepper
8 large fresh basil leaves, slivered

2 cups fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese or one 15oz. container of whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 cup 1/4-inch cubes mild imported provolone cheese or sharp domestic provolone cheese
2 tbsp. plus 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

1 pound manicotti (large tubular pasta)

1 tbsp. olive oil

For Ragu and Filling
1. Pierce each sausage several times with tip of knife. Place them in a heavy saucepan; add onion. Cover and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Turn the sausages over and stir the onion. Cover and cook until the sausages release the fat and the onions begin to change color - about another 5 minutes. Uncover and increase heat to medium.

2. Add the wine and simmer until wine evaporates and onion is golden, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Puree the tomatoes with juices in a processor, then strain out seeds and add puree to the pan with sausages/onions. Add the crushed red pepper. Simmer very gently over low head until the sauce thickens and reduces to about 2 cups (make sure to turn the sausages over occasionally) - simmer for about one hour and 15 mintues.

4. Add the basil and simmer for an additional 5 minutes longer.

5. Using tongs, transfer the sausages to plate to cool. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.

6. Place the ricotta in a medium bowl. Mix the provolone cubes, 2 tbsp. grated Parm, and black pepper into the ricotta.

7. Cut the sausages into 1/4 inch cubes and stir them into the cheese mixture. Season with salt to taste.

Sauce and filling can be made one day ahead.

For assembly:
1. Cook manicotti in a large pot of boiling salted water until somewhat firm and about 3/4 cooked. The recipe says 7minutes, but it was about 10 minutes for me.

2. Using tongs, carefully transfer the pasta from the pot to a foil-lined baking sheet and cool.

3. Brush olive oil over the bottom of a 13x9x2 inch glass baking dish; spread 3 tbsp. sauce over the bottom.

4. Using your hands (yes, you're going to get messy) fill each of the manicotti with about 1/3 cup cheese-sausage mixture.

5. After arranging the stuffed manicotti along the bottom, spoon the sauce over the top of them.

6. Preheat the oven to 350* F. Sprinkle remaining 3/4 cup Parm atop sauce. Bake the manicotti uncovered until heated through and sauce is bubbling on the bottom of the dish, about 20 minutes. Let manicotti sit for 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

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