Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Manicotti, Lasagna, and Stuffed Shells



When I go to the grocery store, I always have a list and try not to deviate from it too much.  Of course, there are times when I remember that we need something I have neglected to put on my list.  But I do not buy impulsively.  Rash and unplanned grocery shopping leads to less healthy meals, higher grocery bills, more food wasted, and a more stressful shopping experience.

That being said, there are times when it is prudent to make a change in the game plan part-way through your shopping trip.  A few weeks ago I was at WinCo, list in hand.  I noticed that Prego marinara sauce (yes, I sometimes use jarred spaghetti sauce) and cottage cheese were on sale.  The savings were too good to pass up; so I grabbed a tub of cottage cheese and a few jars of Prego, then backtracked a bit, and picked up some manicotti noodles.


Manicotti is one of Robbie’s absolute favorite meals—that’s what he chose for his birthday dinner this year.  I rarely make it, however, because it isn’t the healthiest pasta dish and all the cheese makes it one of the more costly meals that I make.  So when I saw some of the ingredients at a great price, I just had to insert it in my menu for this week!

I have to break my spending limit of $1/lb. for pasta when I make manicotti.  I have never been able to find manicotti noodles at that price.  You might notice that your grocer’s pasta aisle now has “oven ready” manicotti and lasagna noodles—“No Boiling Required.”  I’ve been making these types of baked pastas for years with regular noodles, and I never boil them.  There is no need to pay more money for these special noodles.  They key is to make sure the sauce is liquidy enough to cook the noodles in the oven and to bake it a little longer than if you had boiled the noodles.  Not only does this save on active prep time, but the noodles don’t rip while you are filling them.  Jumbo shell noodles have to be boiled because the sides overlap too much to fill.  Just follow the directions on the package.  They should be undercooked, just enough to make them pliable.  They will continue to cook in the oven.

I use cottage cheese rather than the traditional ricotta cheese because it is cheaper but still produces a great filling.  I also think the milder flavor of cottage cheese is more popular with children.  Don't be afraid to try this recipe if you or someone in your family does not like cottage cheese.  Neither of our husbands like cottage cheese, but both of them like manicotti.

An added bonus to this recipe is that it is freezable!  Since the ingredients were on sale, I bought enough to make two batches of filling.  I prepared both batches at the same time—one pan of manicotti to eat and two little pans of lasagna to freeze.  Both pastas can be frozen either before or after baking.  Freezing it after it is baked reduces prep time when you are ready to eat it but produces a slightly over-baked pasta.  You can compromise and bake it half-way before freezing it.  I prefer to freeze it unbaked.  I just move it from the freezer to the fridge one or two days before I’m ready to bake it.  However you decide to do it, be sure to wrap it well to prevent freezer burn.  I usually wrap it with two layers of plastic wrap and then a layer of foil (be sure to remove the plastic wrap before placing it in the oven).

Manicotti or Cheese Lasagna
1 lb. cottage or ricotta cheese
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
½ c. shredded Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
Dash each garlic powder, basil, oregano, thyme, and marjoram
1 pkg. manicotti or lasagna noodles, uncooked
1 jar spaghetti sauce
Mozzarella cheese, for sprinkling
Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling




Preheat oven to 350° (325° if using a clear baking dish).  In medium bowl, combine cottage or ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and Parmesan cheese.  Mix in eggs and herbs to taste.  Pour a thin layer of spaghetti sauce in bottom of 9”x13” baking dish.  Continue following directions for specific pastas below.

Manicotti
Use a fork to stuff each noodle with filling; arrange in single layer in dish.  Cover with remaining spaghetti sauce.  Cover tightly with foil; bake 1 hour.  Remove foil and sprinkle top with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.  Continue baking, uncovered, until cheese is melted and starts to brown, about 5-10 minutes.  Feeds:  6-8.  Total cost:  less than $8.00 with items on sale.




Lasagna
Alternate layers of sauce, noodles, and cheese.  Finish with a layer of noodles then sauce.  Cover tightly with foil; bake 1 hour.  Remove foil and sprinkle top with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.  Continue baking, uncovered, until cheese is melted and starts to brown, about 5-10 minutes.


These little disposable pans are great
for giving meals away.  I get them at
Cash and Carry Warehouse.  You can
find other stores here.
The lids are perfect for writing
contents and cooking directions.














Stuffed Shells
Prepare 1½ batches of filling:
1½ lb. cottage or ricotta cheese
1½ c. shredded mozzarella cheese
¾ c. shredded Parmesan cheese
3 eggs
Dash each garlic powder, basil, oregano, thyme, and marjoram
1 pkg. jumbo shell noodles, cooked according to package directions
1 jar spaghetti sauce
Mozzarella cheese, for sprinkling
Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350° (325° if using a clear baking dish).  In medium bowl, combine cottage or ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and Parmesan cheese.  Mix in eggs and herbs to taste.  Pour a thin layer of spaghetti sauce in bottom of 9”x13” baking dish.  Fill each shell with a spoonful of filling.  Arrange in single layer in dish.  Tear up any remaining noodles and place in holes.  Cover with remaining spaghetti sauce.  Cover tightly with foil; bake 1 hour.  Remove foil and sprinkle top with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.  Continue baking, uncovered, until cheese is melted and starts to brown, about 5-10 minutes.

Boiled and filled
Before they are boiled.



This one hasn't been baked yet.  It's in my freezer for dinner
later this week!!

6 comments:

StaceyN said...

Sumiko, thank you for all of the great recipes. We have been using your microwave popcorm idea ever since I read about it here, and it is a huge hit in my house. We have a ton of veggies and herbs from the garden, so I tried out your roasted veggie sandwhich... delicious! We had to have it twice, it was so good.

I don't know if you've ever made your own pasta, but it's pretty easy and super cheap, and the best part is that you can make it whole grain. If you want manicotti noodles for under $1/pound, just try rolling out your own pasta, cutting it into rectangles, filling with cheese mixture, rolling up and baking with seam side down and sauce on top. I guess that would make it more like canelloni than manicotti, but really, what's the diff? I think there's nothing quite as yummy as fresh pasta, and it can be made ahead and frozen.

BTW, I grew up in the same church as Robbie, and his mom recently told me about your blog. I'm so grateful she did. Thanks again for all of your great ideas!

Crystal Malek said...

I LOVE the idea to use those disposable pans w/lids! What do I search for to find them? I typed in disposable pan and nothing came up. Great idea! So, you wrap that pan in foil and plastic wrap when freezing?

And I've tried using a fork to place manicotti filling and I am NO good at it. Instead, I place it in a zip lock bag, cut off the end, and pipe it into the shells. Much easier for someone clumsy like me. :)

Sumiko said...

Hi, Crystal!

You can find disposable pans of all sorts by searching "Aluminum Disposable Pans," "Aluminum Foil Containers," or "Aluminum Carry-out Containers." Hope you can find a store in your area that carries them. You could search "Restaurant Supply Stores" for your area. Another chain that would carry them is Smart & Final. If you find a super price on the internet, be sure to let us know.

As far as wrapping it, I skip the foil when using the ones that come with lids and just use plastic wrap.

I've heard of piping the filling but never tried it myself. Glad to know it works!

StaceyN, glad you're enjoying the blog! Thanks for the tip on homemade manicotti noodles. Yes, I love making my own pasta, but never thought about making manicotti noodles. I'll have to try that next time.

JaimeSews said...

I'm trying to plan for after baby, but maybe I'm too early...how long would you say these stay "good" in the freezer? Thanks!

Sumiko said...

Jaime, I did the same thing! About 2 months before April was born I started double cooking and freezing half. If I remember correctly, you're due in August? I probably wouldn't make these for a couple more months. One thing you can do to increase their freezer life is use more sauce. If there is more sauce, then there is less air between the noodles to cause freezer burn. Also, they will last longer if the noodles are entirely covered with sauce. Freezer burned sauce is basically thicker sauce, but freezer burned noodles are dry and tough. Wrap your dish completely in at least two layers of plastic wrap then foil. I wish we lived closer together so I could help you stock your freezer!

I just realized you must be due before August if you already know it's a girl. Anyway, I probably wouldn't keep these in my freezer more than two months.

lindamarcella said...

This seems to be an old posting. but can I suggest that you make a batch of homemade pasta for about 20 cents (depending on the price of eggs? Put 4 cups of all purpose flour on a smooth surface. Make a well in the middle. Mix together 4 eggs, a tsp of salt, and half a cup of water. Carefully pour that into the well. With a fork, start pulling flour into the liquid. When you have a soft dough pulled together, slide the majority of what's not mixed in aside and knead the dough until it is soft and smooth. Put the dough in some plastic wrap or a covered bowl and let it rest for 20 min, or more, or put in fridge to use next day. Lightly flour a surface with flour and roll out a portion of the dough. Don't add more flour than needed. Roll out until about as thick as any noodle. They will swell up when cooking. Cut in strips around 3 inches wide.Sprinkle a tray with flour and place noodles on it. When finished rolling all out, cook in boiling water for about 5 min. Remove and cool a few min in cold water. Then use in any of your favorite dishes. I used to buy manicotti noodles but hated to fill the shells. I then started making my homemade noodles and filled them by putting the ricotta mix in the middle and rolling up. That too was messy. Since then I just layer it like lasagna. Same great taste but takes less time and less messy. I have one in the fridge right now waiting to be popped into the oven when I get home and top with homemade meatsauce when serving. Not only is this ridiculously cheaper, but once you taste the same dish with homemade noodles I don't think you'll go back. You can also make and cook the noodles ahead of time, cool and drain them and then store if fridge until later in the week. I just assembled mine with leftover noodles from lasagna made a week ago. I suggest you add a little oil to the cooking water (like all pasta) so they don't stick together and so it's less likely to boil over.

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