Thursday, July 7, 2011

Make-Ahead or Freezer Meal- Manicotti

I realize this manicotti looks kind of funky, but it's just hard to photograph certain food items!  Look at the pretty salad in the background, though!  Those baby greens come from a local organic farm.  They're bee-you-ti-ful!! 

Ok, I made this back in May, I think, but was un-impressed.  At the time, I made a big batch for our fam to eat the next day, and a small batch (8x8 pan) for the freezer.  I took the lazy way out and did not pre-boil my manicotti shells.  So, the first batch, the un-frozen one, was ok.  (That's the one in the pic above... turned out a bit too dry for us).  I wasn't even going to post in on here.  But.... about a month and half later, we took the frozen one out, baked it, and ate it.  It was SO much better!!  It was very good.  A great texture- just moist enough, great flavor, etc.  I added some good-quality Parmigiano Reggiano to the second batch, and I'm sure that helped, as well.  But freezing it must have done something- it was just perfect after being frozen.  (If you do freeze this, cover first w/plastic wrap, then foil.  For extra protection, stick the whole thing in a freezer bag.  Thaw in fridge 24 hours before baking, or at least overnight). 

Maybe I should stick one of these in my freezer for a post-baby dinner that's ready to go!  I'll post a small (8x8 pan) recipe below; double it if needed.  It's filling, so the small recipe fed my fam of 5 just fine with some steamed broccoli on the side.

Cheese Manicotti
adapted from Skinner's Pasta

1/2 package (4 oz) Manicotti noodles, uncooked
1 1/2- 2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
3/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, or 1 teaspoon dried
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 cups spaghetti or pasta sauce (I prefer meatless)

1.  In a large bowl, stir together ricotta, mozzarella, 2 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper; spoon into uncooked pasta tubes (you may boil them first if you really want to). 

2. Spread 1/2 cup sauce on bottom of an 8x8 or 9x9 baking dish; arrange filled pasta in single layer over sauce.  Cover with remaning sauce and Parmesan cheese. 

3.  If baking right away: Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 25-35 minutes or until hot and bubbly. 

4.  For freezing:  Use a disposable aluminum pan (small cake pan).  Prepare as directed but do not back.  Cover with plastic wrap; then foil.  If desired, stick the whole pan into a freezer-safe ziploc bag.  Label the package- include baking temp and time.  Freeze up to 2 months.  When ready to bake: Remove plastic wrap, replace foil.  Thaw out overnight in fridge for faster cooking.  If thawed, baked at 350 F for 30-40 minutes or until heated through and bubbly.  If cooking from frozen; bake at 350 for about 2 hours or until hot and bubbly. 
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