Friday, 6 January 2012

Four Cheese Vegetable Manicotti

I cannot believe that the Christmas /New Year holiday is almost over!!  The first week of the holidays was very busy with Christmas, heading to Great Wolf Lodge and hosting a New Years bash.  So for the second week off I wanted to take it easy and do a few things that I have trouble doing while I'm working.  Like hanging with my offspring and doing things like going to the movies, baking loads of treats, going tobogganing (except we didn't have enough snow!!), embarrass myself at Mario Kart etc.  I also looked forward to staying up late reading book after book while eating those baked goodies that I made with the kids.  Lastly, to make my holiday complete I wanted to make suppers that are too labour intensive to make during a regular work week.  This is where this recipe comes in.

Manicotti aren't hard to make ... they're just persnickety.  Lots of things to grate and filling the shells isn't on the top of my 'fun things to do' either.  But Brad has been hinting (aka outright saying) he'd love to have some manicotti for supper soon so I made them.  I had made this recipe many years ago when the "Crazy Plates" cookbook first came out.  If you haven't heard of this trio of cookbooks (which also include "Looney Spoons" and "Eat, Drink and Be Merry") check them out.  They're written by two Canadian sisters, Janet and Greta Podleski, who have a great sense of humour and know how to pull off lower fat dishes while keeping the flavour!! 

When I first made this dish I made it according to Janet and Greta's directions and loved it.  But this time around I did a few things differently.  The main thing I changed was to leave out the chicken.  When I was in the food store looking at chicken breasts I just could not bring myself to spend $10 on two pathetic little breasts (sadly I'm an expert on small breasts *sigh*).  So I just omitted them.  My goal is to try to eat less meat and this was a dish where I could easily omit it without losing a major part of the meal.  Honestly, I didn't miss it and neither did the carnivore that I married. 

Another thing that I did differently with this dish is that I undercook the noodles.  As I mentioned, I hate stuffing manicotti.  It's like trying to put a wet pig in a pair of Spanx -- the filling is messy, the noodles are slippery ... just not my idea of fun.   By undercooking the noodles they're less floppy and a bit easier to handle.  Because the noodles are undercooked I also add 1 cup of water to my sauce mixture to give the noodles that little extra bit of moisture to continue cooking while they're baking in the oven.  Worked like a charm!

One of the main reasons for making this dish (besides accruing Devoted Wife points) is that I wanted to use my new Kitchen Aid food processor that I got for Christmas.  This baby rocks my kitchen!!!  I luuurve it!  It cuts, shreds and may even be able to do my taxes.  It's that awesome.  This manicotti filling was the perfect dish for my new kitchen machinery (not to mention the Apple Crisp and Apple Bavarian Torte I made this week with it!).  Let's just say that we're all a little in awe of my new machine ... at one point this week we had three preteens standing around my food processor seeing how thin Brad could slice a cucumber.  The male species apparently don't care what kind of engine they're behind as long as it's got power!  Non-stop party around here, I tell ya!
But I digress, this meal was very tasty, filling (even without the meat) and easy to prepare.  I think I may even make an extra one to put in the freezer for one of my 'oh no!  What am I going to make for supper? kind of nights.  Enjoy!! 
Four Cheese Vegetable Manicotti

2 tbsp grapeseed or vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 cup carrot, grated
1 cup zucchini, grated
1 cup mushrooms, grated
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 oz cream cheese, softened and cut into cubes (I always use lower fat cream cheese)

1 cup ricotta cheese

1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

12 manicotti shells, uncooked

2 cups tomato sauce
1 cup water

1 1/2 cup Mozzarella cheese, grated

Prepare fillingIn a large skillet, add oil and saut√© garlic and onion over medium heat until onion is softened but not browned.   Add carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, basil, oregano and black pepper.  Cook for 5 minutes. 
Add cubes of cream cheese and stir until melted.  Remove from heat.  Stir in ricotta and fresh Parmesan cheeses.  Transfer filling to a large bowl and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Cook noodlesMeanwhile, cook manicotti according to package directions except decrease cooking time by a minute or so.  You want the noodles to still be very al dente which makes them less floppy and therefore easier to fill.  Prepare a large bowl with ice water.  Drain noodles and place them into the ice water to stop them from cooking further. 
Put it all together: Preheat oven to 350F.  Pour a thin layer of tomato sauce into the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish.  Set aside.
Using a small teaspoon (I used an infant spoon), fill manicotti noodles with the filling.  Arrange noodles on the bottom of the dish (if some of the noodles split while filling place them with the split-side down).  Pour remaining sauce into a medium bowl and add 1 cup of water.  This extra water will give the noodles an extra bit of moisture so they can continue cooking but not take the moisture from the sauce or filling.   Mix well then pour over the prepared noodles.  Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.
Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes.  Remove foil and bake another 5 minutes.  Serve with a green salad and garlic bread.
Inspired by: 'The Six-Million-Dollar Manicotti' ("Crazy Plates" - page 83)


TheBookGirl said...

Funny post today Laurie :)

I've got to make this soon. My daughter could live on cheese and pasta -- in fact when she was little she pretty much did that -- and my husband would like it too. I would leave out the chicken (so I could partake too.).

I am not familiar with that trio of cookbooks, but they sound like fun. Sort of like the cookbooks put out by the Heirloom Sisters -- good recipes with a good dose of humor thrown in.

Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust said...

Yu-mmy! This looks so delish. I've never even heard of grapeseed oil?! BTW, as a Pixie Dust follower, you are welcome to pop over & enter a giveaway for a beautiful clock. Good luck & thanks for reading!

Warmly, Michelle

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

BookGirl -- the Crazy Plates cookbooks are actually being sold as a set now in Chapters (at least here in Canada anyway). Great, lower fat recipes that taste really good.

Michelle -- my mom got me on to grapeseed oil. Here in Canada President's Choice sells it. It's a 'better for you' kind of oil. All I know is that I like how it cooks and it also works well in baked goods. :) Thanks for the info about the giveaway. I've entered! Thanks for including us Canucks!

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