Kuku Paka (Chicken & Coconut Curry)

I was happy that the weather cooled down a little bit so that I could sneak this dinner into our springtime menu. The sauce was beyond creamy and delicious. Typically, this dish is prepared with charcoal-grilled chicken; I loved that this recipe was adapted to make using the broiler instead- perfect in cooler weather.

This recipe was adapted from Let’s Eat by Zaynab Issa, via Bon App√©tit. It is a wonderful version of this popular East African-Indian chicken curry. It gave my son, who is studying World History in high school, a moment to review the impact and influences of the Indian Ocean trade routes prior to 1450 with our family. ūüėČ In Swahili, the trade language formed across the Indian Ocean, Kuku means chicken and Paka means to smear, to spread, or to apply.

The original recipe recommends using boneless thighs but notes that any cut of chicken, or a mix of breasts, tenders, or drumsticks (with pieces of similar size), could be substituted. A mix of vegetables can also be used in lieu of chicken to create a vegetarian version. I served it over rice with steamed spinach. Fast and fabulous.

Yield: 4 to 6 Servings

  • 3 to 6 garlic cloves
  • 2 lemons, divided (one for marinade & one for serving)
  • 1 1/4 tsp Morton kosher salt, divided, plus more (or 2 1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt)
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika or Kashmiri chile powder
  • one pinch or dash of cayenne pepper (omit if using Kashmiri chile powder)
  • 2‚Äď3 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 8 to 10 large)
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1 plum tomato
  • 1 medium jalape√Īo or 1‚Äď2 green Thai chiles, seeded and ribbed
  • 1/4 cup (packed) cilantro leaves with tender stems, plus more for serving
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/8 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 can (13.5 oz) unsweetened coconut milk
  • 4 T (1/4 cup) heavy cream (can substitute nondairy milk or additional coconut milk)
  • Basmati rice and/or crusty bread, for serving
  1. Finely grate the garlic cloves into a large bowl with a Microplane; alternatively, a garlic press can be used.
  2. Cut 1 lemon in half and squeeze juice into the bowl; discard seeds.
  3. Mix in 1/2 tsp Morton kosher salt (or 1 tsp Diamond Crystal) and the smoked paprika and cayenne pepper (or Kashmiri Chile powder).
  4. Add the skinless, boneless chicken thighs (I used 10) and toss to evenly coat.
  5. Cover bowl and let sit at room temperature 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the curry base.
  6. Coarsely chop the onion, tomato, chile(s) (depending on how spicy your chiles are and your heat tolerance), and cilantro. Transfer to a blender or food processor and blend or process until smooth. (I used a Vitamix.)
  7. Place an oven rack in the highest position. Heat the broiler. (I set my oven to Broiler+Max at 500 degrees.)
  8. Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a high-sided skillet or large pot over medium. (I used a large, low, and wide enameled cast iron pan.)
  9. Add ground coriander, ground cumin, and ground turmeric. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  10. Pour in pur√©e and add 3/4 tsp Morton kosher salt (or 1 1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal). Stir to combine and cook, stirring occasionally, until raw onion smell subsides and curry is paste-like in consistency, 15‚Äď20 minutes.
  11. Arrange chicken on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet and broil until cooked through, charred in spots, and a thermometer inserted into the thickest parts registers 165¬į, 14 to 20 minutes. (I placed the chicken “skin side down” for 7 minutes, flipped each piece over and cooked an additional 7 minutes.)
  12. While the chicken is cooking, shake the can unsweetened coconut milk to ensure coconut cream is incorporated, then add coconut milk to curry and stir well to combine. Curry should be pale yellow. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until warm and slightly thickened, 5‚Äď10 minutes.
  13. Once chicken is finished, add chicken and all of the pan juices to the curry and reduce heat to low; mix well to combine. Stirring constantly to prevent curry from breaking, dribble in the heavy cream.
  14. Taste and season with more salt, if needed.
  15. Serve the chicken and sauce over Basmati rice garnished with additional cilantro.
  16. Cut remaining 1 lemon into wedges. Serve kuku paka with crusty bread and lemon wedges for squeezing over at the table, as desired.

Classic Macaroni & Cheese with Sourdough Bread Crumb Topping

This cheesy pasta lived up to its title as “classic.” The combination of cheeses gave it the perfect velvety texture. We ate it as part of my husband’s birthday feast this year. Everyone loved it!

The recipe was adapted from The New Best Recipe All-New Edition from the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated. The original recipe also notes that the recipe can be halved and baked in an 8-inch square baking dish. Great.

Yield: one 9×13-inch casserole: Serves 6 to 8 as a main course or 10 to 12 as a side dish

For the Bread Crumb Topping:

  • 6 slices (about 6 ounces) good-quality white sandwich bread, torn into rough pieces (I used Trader Joe’s Sourdough sandwich bread)
  • 3 T cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

For the Casserole:

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • salt
  • 5 T unsalted butter
  • 6 T all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 5 cups milk (whole, low-fat, or skim okay)(I used 3 cups whole and 2 cups low-fat)
  • 8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
  • 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)

To Prepare the Bread Crumbs:

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the bread and butter until the crumbs are no larger than 1/8-inch, about 10 to 15 pulses. Set aside.

To Prepare the Pasta & Cheese:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the broiler.
  2. Place a 9×13-inch broiler safe baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet. (I also covered the enameled handles of my baking dish with foil to protect them from the heat of the broiler.)
  3. Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoon of salt and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until the pasta is tender (NOT al dente).
  4. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water (for reheating leftovers). Drain in a colander and set aside.
  5. In the now-empty Dutch oven, heat the butter over medium-high heat until foaming.
  6. Add the flour, mustard, and cayenne; whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until the mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. (I used a flat whisk.)
  7. Whisking constantly, gradually add the the milk; bring the mixture to a boil. The mixture must reach a full boil to fully thicken.
  8. After the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes.
  9. Remove from the heat and whisk in the grated cheeses and 1 teaspoon of coarse salt. Whisk until the cheeses are completely melted.
  10. Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is steaming and heated through, about 5 to 6 minutes.
  11. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish and sprinkle the top evenly with the bread crumbs.
  12. Broil until the crumbs are deep golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes, rotating the pan if necessary for even browning. (I set my oven to Broil+Max @500 degrees.) Cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Poblano, Black Bean & Cheese Enchiladas

Recently, my friend gave me beautiful cast iron baking dishes. I knew that I wanted to make enchiladas in them right away! Our Cinco de Mayo feast was the perfect occasion. Our meal also included chips and guacamole, of course. ūüėČ

The recipe for these hearty, vegetarian enchiladas was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Ali Slagle. I modified the proportions and method. We ate them garnished with sour cream, red onion, avocado, and cilantro with refried beans and rice on the side. We topped off our festive meal with a Tres Leches Cake. Perfect.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped (I used a food processor)
  • 1 poblano chile, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled and minced (I used a food processor)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 (15-ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sour cream, plus more for serving, optional
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups coarsely grated mild Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
  • 10 to 12 (6-inch) soft corn or flour tortillas (I used Trader Joe’s corn & wheat tortillas)
  • fresh cilantro leaves and stems, for serving
  • sliced avocado, for serving, optional
  • diced white or red onion, for serving, optional
  • rice and refried beans, for serving, optional
  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. (I used the convection setting.)
  2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high. Add the onions and chopped poblano chile; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and charred in spots, 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the cumin and minced garlic; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
  4. Transfer half the vegetable mixture to a blender; add the tomatoes, chili powder and chipotle chile. (I used a Vitamix.) Blend until very smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (If your blender isn’t particularly strong and the sauce looks more like a chunky purée, add 1/4 cup sour cream and blend again until smooth.)(I omitted the sour cream in the sauce.)
  5. Add the black beans and 1/2 cup cheese to the remaining vegetables in the skillet and stir to combine. Some canned beans are already salted, so taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
  6. Place the tortillas in a tortilla warmer (or on a plate) covered with a damp paper towel. Cover and microwave for 1 minute, or until warm and pliable.
  7. If using individual dishes, spread a few spoonfuls of sauce over the bottom of each dish. (I used 5 dishes.) Alternatively, pour enough enchilada sauce to lightly coat the base of a medium casserole dish or a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Spread it to cover the bottom of the dish(es).
  8. Line up the filling, tortillas and baking dish in a row. Place a heaping 1/4 cup of the bean mixture in the center of each tortilla. Roll up the tortilla and place in the casserole dish(es), seam-side down. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. (I placed 2 enchiladas per individual dish.)
  9. Spoon or pour the remaining sauce over the enchiladas.
  10. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cheese, to taste. (I used 1/2 cup cheese per dish.)
  11. Place the baking dish(es) on a rimmed baking sheet and tent with foil. Bake for 10 minutes.
  12. Remove foil and continue to bake until the cheese has melted and has browned in spots, about 10 additional minutes.
  13. Top with sour cream, avocado slices, diced onion, and cilantro. Serve immediately.

Note: The sauce and the black bean mixture (without the cheese) can be made up to 5 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The spice level in the sauce can be easily modified by adjusting the amount of chili powder.

One-Pot Crispy Gnocchi with Burst Tomatoes & Fresh Mozzarella

This is a variation of one of my favorite quick dishes that also uses store-bought gnocchi as a shortcut. It is less spicy which pleased my husband. ūüėČ The cheesiness of this version definitely made it a crowd-pleaser.

The recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Ali Slagle. It was the perfect dinner to make and serve after making cupcakes all afternoon with my daughter. Fast and fabulous.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

  • 2¬†tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 2¬†(12- to 18-ounce) packages shelf-stable or refrigerated potato gnocchi (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/4¬†cup (4 T) unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
  • 8 to 10 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4¬†teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more, to taste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups (2¬†pints) small tomatoes, such as cherry, grape or Sungold
  • 4 to 6 T thinly sliced (chiffonade) or torn basil leaves, plus more for serving
  • 8 to 9¬†ounces (8 slices) fresh mozzarella, cut or torn into 1/2-inch pieces
  1. Heat the broiler with a rack about 6 inches from the heat source.
  2. In a large (12-inch) skillet on the stovetop, heat enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan (about 1 tablespoon) over medium-high. (I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet.)
  3. Add half the gnocchi to the pan, breaking up any that are stuck together. Cover with a lid or baking sheet and cook, undisturbed, until golden brown on one side, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  4. Repeat with the remaining gnocchi and olive oil.
  5. Add the butter to the skillet and cook over medium-high, stirring often, until golden-brown and toasty, 1 to 2 minutes.
  6. Add the garlic, red-pepper flakes, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and a few grinds of pepper, reducing the heat slightly if necessary to avoid scorching.
  7. Add the tomatoes and 3 tablespoons water and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the tomatoes have softened and the liquid has slightly thickened, 4 to 6 minutes. Smash the tomatoes as they burst to help them along.
  8. Add the seared gnocchi and basil, stir to coat, then shake into an even layer.
  9. Top with the mozzarella and drizzle lightly with olive oil.
  10. Broil until the cheese is melted and browned in spots, 2 to 4 minutes. (I set my oven to 500 degrees Broil+Max.)
  11. Top with more basil, red-pepper flakes, and black pepper as desired.

Creamy Tadka Dal with Roti

IMG_2657

I loved the combination of textures and colors from the mix of beans in this creamy dal. The recipe was a “staff favorite” in Food and Wine, contributed by Antara Sinha. It was included an article titled “Good to the Last Sop: Cozy Dinners That Deliver Endless Comfort.” The original recipe includes instructions to make homemade roti to serve with the dal to sop it up. ūüôā

We ate this dish with store-bought roti but I included the roti recipe from the original article below. I wish I had made the homemade roti because we tragically did not enjoy the store-bought version. (Homemade is always better!) I served the dal over brown Basmati rice with steamed spinach on the side. Hearty and delicious vegetarian comfort food.

For the Dal:

  • 3/4 cup dried moong dal (split yellow mung beans) (about 5¬Ĺ ounces)¬†
  • 3/4 cup dried masoor dal (split red lentils) (about 5 ounces)¬†
  • 3/4 cup dried chana dal (split bengal gram) or dried toor dal (split pigeon peas) (about 5¬ĺ ounces)¬†
  • 2‚ÄČ1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste¬†
  • 1‚ÄČ1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric¬†
  • 6 to 7 cups water, divided¬†
  • 1‚ÄȬŠtablespoons canola oil¬†
  • 4 green cardamom pods, crushed, shells discarded¬†
  • 4 whole cloves¬†
  • 1‚ÄȬľ teaspoons cumin seeds¬†¬†
  • 1 medium-size yellow onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups)¬†¬†
  • 2 medium-size fresh serrano or jalape√Īo chiles, stemmed, seeded if desired, and finely chopped (about 2 1/2 tablespoons)¬†
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped (about 1 cup)¬†
  • ¬ľ cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish¬†

For the Roti:

  • 2 cups atta (Indian whole-wheat flour) (about 8 5/8 ounces), plus more for dusting¬†
  • 3/4 to 1 cup water, divided¬†
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt¬†
  • melted ghee, for brushing¬†

For the Tadka:

  • 3 tablespoons ghee¬†
  • 3 small dried chiles (such as Diaspora Co. Whole Sannam Chillies), or more to taste¬†(I used Bird’s Eye)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds

To Serve:

  • brown Basmati rice, optional
  • steamed spinach, optional

To Start the Dal:

  1. Stir together moong dal, masoor dal, chana (or toor) dal, salt, turmeric, and 6 cups water in a large saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high. (I used a medium enameled cast iron Dutch oven.)
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low; partially cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until dal is soft and tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Add up to remaining 1 cup water, 1/4 cup at a time, until desired thickness and consistency is reached.

To Make the Roti Dough:

  1. Stir together atta, 3/4 cup water, and salt in a medium bowl. Knead mixture in bowl until all dry flour is incorporated, adding remaining 1/4 cup water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed to incorporate flour.
  2. Transfer dough to a clean work surface; knead until stretchy and slightly sticky, 5 to 7 minutes.
  3. Shape dough into a ball, and return to bowl. Cover with a clean towel; let stand at room temperature until dough is smooth and matte, about 30 minutes.

To Season the Dal:

  1. Heat oil in a medium-size heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium.
  2. Add cardamom, cloves, and cumin; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 30 to 45 seconds.
  3. Add onion and chopped fresh chiles; cook, stirring often, until onion is lightly browned around edges, 5 to 8 minutes.
  4. Add tomato; cook, stirring often, until tomato begins to break down, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. Add tomato mixture and cilantro to dal mixture; stir to combine. Season to taste with salt.
  6. Cover and keep warm over low.

To Cook the Roti:

  1. Once roti dough has rested, turn out onto a work surface lightly dusted with atta.
  2. Divide dough evenly into 16 pieces (about 1 ounce each).
  3. Working with 1 dough piece at a time and keeping remaining pieces covered with a towel, shape dough into a ball. Dust ball thoroughly with atta, and flatten slightly. Using a rolling pin, roll dough into a circle until uniformly thin and about 6 inches in diameter. Rotate the disk 90 degrees after each roll, flipping and dusting with atta occasionally to make a perfect circle. Repeat with remaining dough pieces.
  4. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high. Place 1 roti round in skillet; cook until bubbles start to form and bottom is speckled with brown spots, 30 to 45 seconds. Flip roti using tongs; cook until it puffs up completely and is evenly cooked on both sides, 30 to 45 seconds. (Small charred spots are delicious and totally OK.) If roti doesn’t completely puff up, pat the top using a clean towel to encourage it to inflate.
  5. Remove roti from skillet, and brush both sides lightly with melted ghee; transfer to a serving plate. Repeat process with remaining roti rounds and ghee.

To Make the Tadka & to Serve:

  1. In a small skillet, heat ghee over medium-high. Add dried chiles and cumin to pan; cook, stirring occasionally, until cumin is toasted and fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  2. Divide dal mixture among bowls, and drizzle each portion with desired amount of warm tadka. (I served it over brown Basmati rice.)
  3. Sprinkle with additional cilantro, and serve alongside hot roti and steamed spinach, as desired.

Note: Dal can be prepared (without the tadka) 2 days ahead and stored in an airtight container in refrigerator.

One-Pot Coconut Chicken Rice

This one pot dish was creamy, flavorful and absolutely delicious. The spices had a great balance with the richness of the coconut milk. I served it with roasted asparagus on the side. It was a perfect springtime dinner.

The recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Shayma Owaise Saadat. I modified the proportions and method. I also swapped spinach for the kale. I increased the amount of leafy greens but would add even more next time! The original recipe notes that canned chickpeas can be substituted for the chicken to make a vegetarian version.

Yield: Serves 6

  • 1 1/2 cups white basmati rice
  • 2 T grapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 2 medium or 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs (I used 9)
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3 tsp kosher salt, divided
  • 1 13.5-oz can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 6 to 8 cups of thinly sliced spinach or 4 cups Tuscan kale, ribs and stems removed, leaves thinly sliced crosswise into strips
  • store-bought sliced pickled red chiles, for serving, optional
  • lime wedges, for serving, optional
  1. Place rice in fine mesh sieve set inside a medium bowl; pour in cold water to cover.
  2. Agitate rice with your hands until water is cloudy. Drain and repeat until water is almost clear (about 3 to 5 times). Drain.
  3. Pour in water to cover rice by 2 inches; let soak 30‚Äď45 minutes.
  4. Heat oil in a large heavy pot with a wide base over medium-high. (I used an enameled cast iron pot.)
  5. Add shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 1-2 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring until softened, about 1 minute.
  6. Using paper towels, pat the chicken dry.
  7. Add chicken, turmeric, cayenne, and 2 teaspoons of salt to the shallots and garlic. Cook, turning and moving around chicken thighs as needed, until chicken begins to turn opaque, about 2 minutes.
  8. Pour in 3/4 cup water and bring to a simmer.
  9. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer, turning chicken once, until chicken is cooked through and very tender, about 20 minutes.
  10. Remove the lid of the pot and wrap it with a kitchen towel, securing the corners up and over the top of the lid with a rubber band.
  11. Drain the rice and add to pot with chicken, then add coconut milk and remaining 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir to incorporate and bring to a boil.
  12. Reduce heat to lowest setting and cook, undisturbed, 15 minutes.
  13. Remove from heat. Remove towel and lid. Remove towel from the lid.
  14. Arrange spinach (or kale) in an even layer over chicken and rice and cover with lid. Let sit until wilted, about 10 minutes.
  15. Top with chiles, if using. Serve with lime wedges.

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.

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