Spinach Manicotti

I have shared my love for manicotti in the past– stemming from wonderful memories of enjoying it with my college roommate’s large Italian family on Easter Sunday.

I have made many versions of spinach manicotti, usually filling store-bought manicotti noodles. Using no-boil lasagna noodles instead was a great “less-hassle” shortcut. They were also chosen to mimic the texture of fresh pasta. It was absolutely true! I will never buy manicotti noodles again. ūüėČ

This recipe was adapted from America’s Test Kitchen. I replaced one cup of ricotta cheese with an equivalent amount of chopped, steamed spinach seasoned with freshly grated nutmeg. I also used whole milk ricotta instead of part-skim, part-skim mozzarella instead of whole milk mozzarella, coarse salt instead of table salt, and modified the method. Fabulous.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

For the Tomato Sauce:

  • 2¬†28-ounce cans diced tomatoes with¬†juice
  • 2 tablespoons¬†extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 to 6¬†cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2¬†teaspoon¬†hot red pepper flakes,¬†optional
  • coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

For the Filling & Pasta:

  • 6 oz baby spinach
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste
  • 2 cups¬†whole milk ricotta cheese (can substitute part-skim ricotta)
  • 4 ounces (about 2 cups)¬†grated Parmesan cheese, divided¬†(I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • 8 ounces (about 2 cups)¬†shredded mozzarella cheese (I used part-skim mozzarella)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 16 no-boil lasagna noodles (I used Trader Joe’s)
  1. Steam the baby spinach until wilted. (I did this on the stove top.)
  2. Let the spinach cool slightly, then use a potato ricer to remove excess liquid. Coarsely chop. (You should have about 1 cup.) Season with salt and freshly ground nutmeg. Set aside.
  3. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees, preferably on convection.
  4. Make the Sauce: Pulse 1 can tomatoes with their juice in food processor until coarsely chopped, 3 or 4 pulses. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with remaining can tomatoes.
  5. Heat oil, garlic, and pepper flakes (if using) in large saucepan over medium heat until fragrant but not brown, 1 to 2 minutes.
  6. Stir in tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes.
  7. Stir in basil; adjust seasoning with salt. Set aside.
  8. Make the Filling: Combine the chopped spinach, ricotta, 1 cup Parmesan, mozzarella, eggs, salt, pepper, and herbs in medium bowl; set aside.
  9. To Assemble: Pour 1 inch boiling water into 13 by 9-inch broiler-safe baking dish, then add noodles one at a time. (I used a pyrex dish.) Let noodles soak until pliable, about 5 to 6 minutes, separating noodles with tip of sharp knife to prevent sticking.
  10. Remove noodles from water and place in single layer on clean kitchen towels. Do not use paper towels because the noodles may stick. (I used flour sack towels.)
  11. If using the same dish to bake the manicotti, drain the water and dry the dish. (I used a ceramic baking dish to bake the manicotti instead of using the pyrex dish.)
  12. Place the preferred baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet. Spread bottom of baking dish evenly with 1 1/2 cups sauce.
  13. Using a large cookie scoop or a soup spoon, spread 3 to 4 tablespoons of the spinach-cheese filling mixture evenly onto bottom three-quarters of each noodle (with short side facing you), leaving top quarter of noodle exposed.
  14. Roll into tube shape and arrange in baking dish seam side down.
  15. Top evenly with remaining sauce, making certain that pasta is completely covered. (It seems like a lot of liquid but it’s necessary for the no-boil noodles to cook properly.)
  16. To Bake: Cover manicotti with aluminum foil. Bake until bubbling, about 40 minutes, then remove foil.
  17. Remove baking dish, adjust oven rack to uppermost position (about 6 inches from heating element).
  18. Sprinkle manicotti evenly with remaining 1 cup Parmesan. Return to the oven on the adjusted oven rack; bake for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling.
  19. Set the oven to broil.
  20. Broil until cheese is lightly brown or spotty brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Cool 15 minutes, then serve.

Note: The manicotti can be prepared through step 15, covered with a sheet of parchment paper, wrapped in aluminum foil, and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month. (If frozen, thaw the manicotti in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.) To bake, remove the parchment, replace the aluminum foil, and increase baking time to 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Baked Feta & Tomato Pasta with Basil

I first heard about this spectacularly easy viral pasta dish from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. I think I was the last to know… My daughter has seen countless people make it on TikTok, of course. ūüėČ She was absolutely thrilled to make it with me!

The original recipe is called “Uunifetapasta,” created by the Finnish blogger Jenni H√§yrinen.¬†The foundation of the dish is a block of feta placed in the center of a baking dish surrounded by seasoned tomatoes. After being baked, the cheese and burst tomatoes are combined to create a creamy and delicious sauce to serve over pasta. Deb Perelman incorporated chickpeas in her version- nice.

This version from the Washington Post, contributed by¬†Aaron Hutcherson,¬†recommended using Greek sheep’s milk feta to maximize the creaminess. I used an enameled cast iron baking pan, modified the proportions and incorporated za’atar to the seasoning on the tomatoes prior to baking. It was super creamy and tasty- and as simple and easy to prepare as expected.

Yield: Serves 6

  • 3 pints (750 to 800 g) grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 5 large garlic cloves, halved lengthwise
  • 8 T (1/2 cup) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 block (10.5 oz) Greek feta cheese
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • za’atar, to taste, optional
  • 17 to 18 oz medium-length dried pasta, such as campanile, rigatoni, or rotini (I used Gigli)
  • fresh basil leaves, for serving
  1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees, preferably on convection roast.
  2. In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, combine the tomatoes, garlic and 6 tablespoons of the olive oil. (I used an enameled cast iron baking pan.)
  3. Sprinkle the tomatoes with some salt and toss to coat. Sprinkle with za’atar, if using.
  4. Place the feta cheese in the center of the tomatoes and garlic, top with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and sprinkle the entire dish with red pepper flakes and a little black pepper.
  5. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the garlic has softened and the tomatoes have burst their skins.
  6. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta.
  7. Remove the baking dish from the oven and stir the feta and tomatoes with a wooden spoon until evenly combined. Taste and adjust seasoning, as necessary.
  8. Mix the sauce with pasta, adding the reserved pasta water as needed if it looks a little dry. (I incorporated quite a bit of pasta water.)
  9. To serve, top with plenty of basil leaves.

Glazed Chocolate Cake Donuts

My kids haven’t had a snow day in a couple of years, but today we had our second snow day of the season. We were very happy for the break from reality. ūüôā Everyone slept in this morning and then my daughter made this special breakfast. ‚̧

These baked donuts were quite a treat- I had to post them right away. The recipe was adapted from bunsinmyoven.com. They were very light, tender, and moist. The batter would also be great to bake in mini-bundt pans. Next time!

I’m looking forward to another indulgent breakfast tomorrow morning… We just found out that my kids have another snow day! ūüôā

Yield: 12 mini donuts

For the Donuts:

  • 1 cup¬†all-purpose¬†flour
  • 1/2 cup¬†granulated¬†sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon¬†coarse¬†salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure¬†vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 6 tablespoons sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup milk (preferably whole milk)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

For the Glaze:

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk (preferably whole milk)
  • 1 teaspoon¬†pure¬†vanilla extract
  • pinch of coarse salt

To Make the Donuts:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, preferably on convection. Coat two mini-donut pans with cooking oil spray.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Whisk in the mini chocolate chips.
  4. In a small bowl, using a hand-held mixer, beat together the vanilla, egg, sour cream, milk, and oil.
  5. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined.
  6. Using a small cookie scoop or spoon, distribute the dough into two greased mini-donut pans.
  7. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until the tops spring back when you touch them and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs.
  8. Let the donuts cool in the pan for 5 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack.
  9. Let the donuts cool completely before glazing.
To Make the Glaze:
  1. Place a piece of plastic wrap, parchment paper, wax paper, or newspaper under a wire rack to catch drips of glaze.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt until smooth.
  3. Dunk the donuts in the glaze to fully coat and place on the wire rack to set, about 5 minutes.

Oven-Baked Barbecue Chicken

The week of President Biden’s Inauguration, our local newspaper published recipes to celebrate our nation. The article included recipes for the Navy Bean Soup that is served in one of the Senate restaurants and White House Chef (1966-1987) Henry Haller’s Cooked Vegetable Salad. The third recipe was late Representative John Lewis’ recipe for Barbecued Chicken.

This oven-baked barbecued chicken was published in the¬†Atlanta Journal Constitution as Representative John Lewis’ “other legacy.” It was originally published in the AJC in 1995 and was re-published after his death. He started making this dish in 1968, serving it to guests with potato salad, with rice and string beans, or with sweet potatoes and green salad.

I adapted the recipe to used boneless, skinless chicken thighs, modified the proportions and method, and included garlic in the sauce. We ate it with crispy oven fries and green salad. It was a crowd-pleaser in my house too.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard (I used Dijon)
  • 1 tablespoon Tabasco or other hot sauce (I used chipotle Cholula)
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced, optional
  • 10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs OR 1 whole frying chicken, cut up, or equivalent chicken pieces
  • fresh herbs, for garnish, optional
  1. Preheat oven to 350, preferably on convection roast. Coat a rimmed baking sheet¬†or 9×13-inch baking pan with cooking oil spray.
  2. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine ketchup with mustard, hot sauce, cayenne pepper, pinch of black pepper, onion, and garlic, if using. Blend well.
  4. Put chicken parts into the prepared pan. Spread half of the sauce evenly over chicken if using boneless, skinless chicken or all of the sauce if using bone-in chicken parts.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes for boneless, skinless thighs or for 30 minutes for bone-in skin on chicken parts.
  6. Remove pan from the oven and flip the chicken pieces over if using boneless, skinless chicken; coat with the rest of the sauce. If using bone-in skin-on chicken, basting the chicken with pan juices at this point.
  7. Return the pan to the oven and continue to bake for an additional 15 minutes for boneless, skinless chicken or 30 minutes for bone-in, skin-on chicken parts.
  8. Remove pan from the oven as set to broil. Broil the chicken, watching carefully, for 1 to 3 minutes, or until browned in spots.
  9. Garnish with fresh herbs, if desired. Serve warm.

Baked Chicken & Spinach Meatballs

Everyone loves meatballs- right? These were a healthyish version packed with cilantro and spinach. We ate them over rice topped with dollops of garlicky Greek yogurt sauce with roasted cauliflower on the side. Yum.

My husband was gifted a meat grinder for Christmas. ūüôā This was the first time he used it, grinding chicken thighs for these full-flavored meatballs. He plans to make burgers with blended meats next. Fancy!

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by David Tanis. I prepared the seasoned meat about 6 hours ahead of time but it can even sit overnight in the refrigerator so that the meat absorbs the seasoning. I baked the meatballs (in the same oven as the roasted cauliflower) and used red pepper flakes instead of a serrano chile. I also added a yogurt sauce for serving. Fantastic.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

For the Meatballs:

  • 1 pound spinach, washed
  • 1 1/2¬†pounds ground chicken (I used 5 freshly ground chicken thighs- medium grind)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (I used the zest from 1/2 lemon)
  • pinch of ground cayenne
  • pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds (I crushed them using a mortar and pestle)
  • pinch of ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems, plus more for garnish
  • 1 serrano chile, with seeds, finely chopped or 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup soft fresh bread crumbs, from about 4 slices of crustless sandwich bread (I used 3 slices of Trader Joe’s Tuscan Pane, crusts removed, pulsed in a food processor)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, half-and-half, milk, or ricotta cheese
  • extra-virgin olive oil, for the baking sheet
  • lemon wedges, for serving
  • cooked rice, for serving (I served the meatballs over white Basmati rice)
  • yogurt sauce (or store-bought tzatziki), for serving (see below)

For the Sauce:

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt (I used 2%)
  • pinch of ground cumin
  • 1 garlic clove, finely grated or pressed through a garlic press
  • fresh dill, cilantro or parsley, finely minced, to taste
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Blanch the spinach: Plunge leaves a handful at a time into a pot of boiling water. Leave just long enough to wilt, about 30 seconds, scoop out with a spider or slotted spoon and drain in a colander and cool under running water. Repeat until all of the spinach is wilted.
  2. Remove and squeeze wilted leaves into a ball. I used a potato ricer and squeezed out the excess liquid in batches.
  3. Using a large knife, roughly chop spinach on a cutting board ‚ÄĒ you should have about 2 cups.
  4. Squeeze into a ball again to remove excess water. (This may be done several hours or up to a day in advance and refrigerated.) Again, I used a potato ricer and removed the excess liquid in batches.
  5. If freshly grinding the chicken, grind into a large bowl using the medium grinding disc.
  6. Combine the ground chicken, salt, pepper, lemon zest, cayenne, nutmeg, fennel seeds, cinnamon, spinach, cilantro, chile (or red pepper flakes), egg, bread crumbs and cream in a large bowl. Using your clean hands, knead everything together, mixing well. Leave to absorb seasoning for 15 minutes or overnight. (I refrigerated it for about 6 hours.)
  7. Make the sauce: Combine all of the ingredients and refrigerate for flavors to develop.
  8. Test for seasoning: Take a small amount and flatten into a thin patty. Quickly cook in a small skillet, about 1 minute per side. Taste, then adjust the mixture’s seasoning if necessary.
  9. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, preferably on convection roast.
  10. Using a large ice cream scoop or spoon, form 19 to 24 rough balls and place on a large plate. (The mixture will be soft.)
  11. Using a brush, coat a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil.
  12. Lightly form the meatballs and position them on the prepared baking sheet. Along the long side of the pan, I placed them in rows of 5. (I had 19 meatballs.)
  13. Bake meatballs until well browned underneath, about 15 minutes. Using a stiff metal spatula, pry up and turn over meatballs (they may want to stick a bit). Bake until browned on second side and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of each one registers at least 160¬į, about 4 to 5 minutes more.
  14. Serve over rice garnished with chopped cilantro, if desired. Serve with sauce (or tzatziki) and lemon wedges.

Baked Rigatoni with Eggplant, Tomatoes & Ricotta

More eggplant! This dish is a great vegetarian alternative to a traditional baked ziti. A crowd-pleasing weeknight comfort-food pasta casserole. ūüôā

This recipe was adapted from Food and Wine, contributed by Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto in NYC. I used San Marzano tomatoes instead of beefsteak and modified the proportions and method. I loved that it incorporated pesto.

To make the dish more healthy, Waxman replaces the traditional b√©chamel sauce with eggplant. The original recipe even suggests using whole-wheat pasta, if desired. Don’t worry… it is still an indulgent baked pasta dish with butter and plenty of cheese. ūüėČ

Yield: Serves 8

  1. Preheat the oven to 375¬į, preferably on convection.
  2. Butter a 9-by-13-inch ovenproof baking dish. (I used cooking oil spray.)
  3. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the rigatoni until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain, then transfer to a large bowl.
  4. Toss the pasta with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.
  5. Meanwhile, in a large non-stick skillet or sauté pan, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Add half of the eggplant and season with salt and pepper. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the eggplant to the pasta. Repeat with another 1/4 cup of olive oil and the remaining eggplant.
  6. Add the onion, garlic and remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is lightly golden, about 5 minutes.
  7. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have broken down and thickened to a sauce consistency, 7 to 8 minutes.
  8. Stir in the 4 tablespoons of butter.
  9. Add the tomato sauce to the pasta and eggplant along with the pesto and ricotta; season with salt and pepper and toss well.
  10. Transfer the rigatoni to the prepared baking dish. Top with the mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano and bake for about 20 minutes, until bubbling and golden on top.
  11. Let the pasta stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Cauliflower Parmesan

I have made this wonderfully cheesy dish a couple of times already- just to get the proportions right. I knew that I had to increase the amount of simple and flavorful sauce after making it the first time.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I lightened the dish by baking the cauliflower after coating it instead of frying it. We ate it over linguini fini with sautéed broccoli rabe on the side. Wonderful!

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

  • 6 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4¬†teaspoon red Chile flakes, optional
  • 3¬†(28-ounce) cans whole or diced plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • 3¬†sprigs basil or 1 bay leaf
  • 3/4¬†teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
  • scant 1/2¬†teaspoon black pepper
  • Parmesan rind, optional
  1. In a large, straight-sided skillet over medium heat, warm the oil. (I used an enameled cast iron pot with a glass lid.)
  2. Add garlic and cook until just lightly golden.
  3. Add chile flakes if desired and cook 30 seconds.
  4. Stir in tomatoes and juices, basil or bay leaf, and salt and pepper.
  5. Bring sauce to a simmer, add the Parmesan rind, if using, and cook until sauce is thick and tomatoes have mostly fallen apart, about 30 to 40 minutes. Adjust heat as needed to keep at a steady simmer. If using whole plum tomatoes, mash them up with the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher to help them break down.
  6. Remove sauce from heat and discard basil or bay leaf.

For the Cauliflower & To Finish the Dish:

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 cups panko or plain unseasoned bread crumbs
  • Kosher salt, as needed
  • freshly ground black pepper, as needed
  • 1¬†large or 2 small/medium heads cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 2-inch florets (I used 1 small and 1 medium)
  • olive oil, for drizzling
  • Simple Tomato Sauce (recipe above)
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 3/4 pound fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces
  • linguine fini or other pasta, optional, for serving
  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees, preferably on convection roast.
  2. Place flour, eggs, and panko into three wide, shallow bowls. (I used glass pie dishes.) Season each generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Dip a cauliflower piece first in flour, then eggs, then coat with panko. Repeat with remaining cauliflower.
  4. Place on 2 parchment paper-lined, rimmed baking sheets. Roast coated florets for 22-24 minutes, or until nicely browned.
  5. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees, preferably on convection.
  6. Spoon a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
  7. Sprinkle one-third of the Parmesan over sauce.
  8. Scatter half cauliflower mixture over the Parmesan and top with half the mozzarella pieces.
  9. Top with half the remaining sauce, sprinkle with another third of the Parmesan and repeat layering, ending with a final layer of sauce and Parmesan.
  10. Transfer pan to oven and bake until cheese is golden and casserole is bubbling, about 30 to 40 minutes. While the dish is baking, prepare the pasta, if desired.
  11. Let cool a few minutes before serving. Serve over prepared pasta, as desired.

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