Monday, April 7, 2008

Cheese & Spinach Manicotti

...with Cream Sauce

This idea comes from my mother-in-law. I remember eating her manicotti dish that was every bit homemade. She even made the noodles! I liked her noodles (which were made like crepes) because they weren't difficult to pin down and cut with my fork--unlike some of those slippery little buggers that come in a box--and the filling didn't ooze out the sides. So here's a recipe I've adapted. I make it with a cream sauce since our kids prefer it at the moment over tomato sauce, but you can use a jar or two of spaghetti sauce or your own favorite sauce just as well! Please DO try making crepes. It really is easier than you think (besides the first one or two) and there are endless filling options!

FILLING:
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
15 oz. cottage (or Ricotta) cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp of dried basil
dash pepper
1-1/2 cups chopped fresh spinach (measured before cooking), wilt by cooking briefly in lightly oiled pan. If using frozen chopped spinach, squeeze out moisture and use only 3/4 cup.

Mix all ingredients in a bowl with a fork. Set aside.

CREPE NOODLES:
3 large eggs
1 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1 cup flour
1/8 tsp salt
2 TBSP melted butter, + 2 TBSP melted butter for frying

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on high for one minute to build gluten (this is only for noodles, not regular crepes), or mix with a mixer. Allow batter to rest for one hour before cooking (crepes may tear easily if this step is skipped).

On medium heat, fry in a lightly buttered (use a brush) 8-inch non-stick skillet, using a 1/4 cup measure to pour batter. Turn pan so crepe covers entire bottom of pan. Using a spatula, your fingers, or the pan-flip method; turn crepe when it is a light golden color on the bottom. When the other side is done, slide it out onto a plate. Repeat with remaining batter. The first 1-2 crepes usually don't work well!

Crepes can be stored in fridge or freezer with waxed paper between each crepe and an airtight cover.

CREAM SAUCE:
4 TBSP butter
3 TBSP flour
1 cup chicken broth
1-1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
salt & pepper
dash of nutmeg
2-3 TBSP white wine, to taste

In a heavy medium-sized saucepan, melt butter, whisk in flour. Cook for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in chicken broth, then slowly add milk, cream and wine. Add dash of nutmeg; salt and pepper to taste. Heat until thickened but still a pouring consistency. Take off heat.

TO ASSEMBLE:
Coat the bottom of a 9 x 13" pan with about a cup of the sauce. Add a line of 2 heaping tablespoons of filling down the middle of a crepe, fold ends in and roll up. Place in the baking dish. Continue until pan is full or crepes are all used (I usually have enough to fill another small baking dish). Pour rest of sauce over the stuffed crepes and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley if you have it.