If you've invited guests to join you for a post-graduation dinner, today's recipe for cheesy manicotti is your ticket to a quick and delicious meal that will feed a crowd.
Preparing my favorite manicotti recipe from Second Round, Tea-Time at the Masters used to be a true labor of love. The recipe calls for laboriously prepared crepelike sheets of manicotti pasta and a homemade marinara sauce, which simmers for an hour.
Lately I haven't had time to prepare this labor-intensive meal, so I began looking for ways to make the preparation easier. Egg roll wrappers from my grocers' produce section came to the rescue. By substituting the egg roll wrappers for the manicotti crepes, you eliminate a tremendous amount of preparation time, but the resulting dish tastes just as good as the original recipe.
The 6-inch wrappers, right out of the package, are wrapped around a combination of ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, eggs and seasonings. The pan is sauced with a simple combination of jarred spaghetti sauce and Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes. The manicotti are topped with additional sauce, covered and baked for 40 minutes.
Today's supermarkets have an unbelievable assortment of pasta sauces, allowing busy cooks to cut kitchen time without sacrificing quality. Combining the jarred sauce with the seasoned diced tomatoes gives the sauce the chunky consistency of homemade marinara.
The recipe is best prepared with whole milk or lowfat ricotta cheese - fat-free ricotta can be a bit dry in the finished dish. Low-fat mozzarella can be used to cut fat as well, but steer clear of the fat-free variety in this case, too. Fat-free cheese just doesn't melt well.
This recipe makes 18 to 21 manicotti, enough to feed your family, the neighbors and a small army. However, the dish freezes extremely well. If you're not having a large gathering, serve one pan of the manicotti this week and freeze another pan for later in the month. Or, take the extra pan of manicotti to new parents or an under-the-weather friend.
Round out your graduation meal with a large tossed salad with cucumbers, tomatoes and Italian dressing. Serve some store-prepared garlic bread alongside, and finish with a bakery cake special-ordered to honor your graduate.
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine ricotta, 2 cups grated mozzarella, Parmesan, eggs, salt, black pepper and parsley in a large bowl. Mix well.
In another bowl, combine the spaghetti sauce with the diced tomatoes. Spray 2 9-by-13-inch glass baking dishes with nonstick spray. Spread 1 1/2 cups of sauce in the bottom of each dish.
Prepare the manicotti by placing an egg roll wrapper on a flat surface. Spoon 1/4 cup filling in the center of each and roll-up. Continue preparing manicotti until all filling is used, placing them seam side down in a single layer in the sauced dishes.
Spread 1 cup of sauce evenly over the manicotti in each dish. Cover dishes tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove casseroles from oven and remove foil. Sprinkle each casserole with 1/2 cup of the remaining mozzarella cheese. Return to oven, uncovered, and bake an additional 10 minutes.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.
Note: The prepared, uncooked manicotti can be frozen in the baking dish, well covered with foil, for one month.
Karin Calloway is a Web chef for Viking Range Corp and a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. You can write her in care of Newsroom, The Augusta Chronicle, P.O. Box 1928, Augusta, GA 30913. Or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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