Monday, May 12, 2014

Manicotti with Meat Sauce

Manicotti with Meat Sauce, Salad and Garlic Bread- HEAVENLY! 
 My family loves my spaghetti sauce, and truth be told, I love red meat sauce. I've been making it and tweaking it since I was about 14 years old, and over the years, I've learned many things. Chief among them is that you need to let it cook for several hours, cool down and then cook it again. Growing up, this was one of the best things my mother made. She was not a great cook, but her sauce was GOOD! When my mom made it, she always made enough to freeze several batches so that we could have it for a couple of meals. We said back then that the spaghetti sauce was always better the second time, and I still believe that. It's something about letting it cool down that brings the sauce together. My sauce is different from my moms. She used garlic powder and oregano. I've updated the sauce with lots of fresh garlic and used basil instead of oregano. The meal I am writing about today is a round two meal, Manicotti with Meat Sauce.

What's the difference between manicotti and canneloni? Manicotti is a stuffed tube of pasta, either with meat or cheese, covered with a red sauce. Canneloni is a stuffed tube of pasta, usually covered with a white sauce. You can check out my Crab Cannelloni with Roasted Garlic Shrimp HERE . It's a delicious, company or special event dish that everyone who loves crab adores. The Manicotti I am writing about today  is a more family friendly, inexpensive type of meal, that most kids love. It has an added benefit as being perfect to make up ahead of time, either earlier in the day or a day or two ahead of time. AND you CAN make it and freeze it, for another time. This is a great dish to master. After all, what's not to love about tubes of pasta stuffed with cheese and covered in red sauce? In addition to being delicious, the sauce can be a lifesaver, frozen to have on hand for a busy day. First, let me tell you how I make it:

Midlo Mom's Meat Sauce
Serves at least 12
2 medium onions, diced
6 cloves minced garlic (2 heaping T.) or more if you like
1 T. olive oil
 1.25 lb lean ground beef
1/2 lb. meat loaf mixture (beef/pork/veal) OR 3 links mild Italian sausage, casings removed
1 28 oz. can Cento Whole Italian tomatoes,  or any San Marzano type
3 - 16 oz cans Hunts tomato sauce
1 6 oz. can Hunts Tomato Paste
1/2 c. dry red wine
6 oz. water
1 dried bay leaf
1 heaping tsp. kosher salt
2 Tablespoons dried basil
1/2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1 tsp. sugar
(**a few shakes of red pepper flakes if your family likes things spicy, totally optional)
In a large pot, heat olive oil and add both kinds of meat, over medium-high heat. Stir constantly to break up meat and brown it. When it begins to brown add the onions and cook until the onions start to become translucent. Add the garlic and stir it into the meat/onion mixture. Add the whole tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as they go into the pot (don't let any huge pieces slop though your fingers! :). Next, add the 3 cans of tomato sauce, salt, pepper, sugar and red wine. Divide the water between the the three empty cans of tomato sauce and "rinse" them out, adding that liquid to the sauce. Sprinkle the basil over the pot and add the bay leaf. Stir the sauce to combine, and bring it to a full boil. Turn it down and let it cook- covered - for at least 2 hours on a simmer, stirring occasionally to make sure it isn't sticking. After an hour, add the tomato paste and stir it into the sauce, and bring it back to a boil. Turn it down again and let it cook another hour. You may taste the sauce at this point if you like, but it will not yet have reached it's full potential.
Turn the sauce off and either refrigerate it for 2 hours or divide into containers to freeze. Reheat the sauce to serve over spaghetti, or to make lasagna or manicotti, or over ziti or whatever kind of pasta your family likes. Now, onto making some manicotti. 

To make the manicotti, boil a large pot of water and add 10 pasta tubes (odds are one or two will split to be unusable).Salt the water. Cook for the least amount of time recommended on the package. While the tubes are cooking, make the filling.
Three cheeses and egg for the filling

Manicotti Filling
4 servings, 2 tubes each
15 oz. Part Skim Ricotta cheese
1/3 c. low fat cottage cheese
1 large egg
1 tsp. dried basil
1/4 Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
1.5 c. part skim Mozzarella cheeses
Place all ingredients except Mozzarella in a medium sized bowl. Stir with a spoon until the cheeses and other ingredients are completely combined. Drain the manicotti noodles and gently cool by running a little cold water over so you can handle them. Grease a square 8X8" baking dish. To fill the tubes, use a small spoon or place the filling into a large plastic bag and snip off one corner. That way you can pipe the filling into approx. 8 tubes. I could only salvage 7 tubes and had to toss a little filling. Since there were only 2 of us, it was fine, just less leftovers! Fill the tubes until they are just full, not stuffed. If using a spoon, start the filling at the middle, and then fill in both sides. That may be the best method if you use a bag to pipe it in as well. It's a little "fiddly" but worth the effort. 
Manicotti tubes filled and ready for the meat sauce

Cover the manicotti with 2 - 3 cups of the meat sauce and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Cover the dish with foil or a top and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover the dish and bake 10 more minutes until it's hot and bubbly. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. 

Manicotti with meat sauce, waiting for the final sprinkle of Mozzarella! 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Spring Leek and Potato Soup or Vichyssoise

Creamy Leek and Potato Soup
I've had leeks on my  mind lately. I keep seeing them, looking fresh and palely green in stores and at markets but I've got a secret. I've NEVER cooked a leek! Why? I honestly don't know, except perhaps I can't remember my mother or my grandmothers or any of my aunts cooking them. Those wonderful ladies were my cooking mentors, companions and partners in happy hour crime. We cooked and laughed our way through many, many dishes, but leeks never appeared. Now that I've conquered them, I honestly don't know why.
Why was I afraid of a leek? 

I decided to start out with a Leek and Potato soup. First I researched my favorites-- a little Julia, a little Ina and a dash of Emeril. All of them have much to say on the subject of leeks -- Julia doesn't saute' them first in any fat, but simply boils the leeks and vegetables in water. Ina and Emeril both added different amounts of chicken stock and water. Emeril kicked his up with spices, but I wanted a more traditional flavor. However, they all agreed on one point -- YOU'VE GOT TO WASH THEM WELL!! This is REALLY important, as the leeks hold lots of sand and dirt between their layers. I decided to do it by removing the tough outer, dark green leaves, cutting off the top couple of inches (also tough and darker green) and then cutting off an inch at the root. I sliced them into rounds about 1/4" thick, like this:

Sliced Leeks
I put them into a big bowl filled with cold water, and let them soak for a few minutes, swishing my hand through the water. I drained them in the colander shown above, and then put them back into the big bowl with more clean cold water. I swished, I repeated the process. Finally, after several repeats, I didn't see any sand or grit in the on the bottom of the bowl. So, I drained them well and I weighed them. Why weigh them you ask? Well, that's what Julia Child said to do, so that is what I did. And after all, I've got this snazzy red food scale, so why not?
1 lb leeks and my handy food scale
Once I'd cleaned the leeks and weighed them, it was all uphill, and the kitchen began to smell like something good was on it's way. I have made potato soup many times over the years, but I must admit, this was hands down, the BEST POTATO SOUP I've ever made! Something about the leeks and the slow cooking worked absolute magic on the flavor. I cut WAY down on the amount of bacon, butter and cream used by the famous chefs, but I swear, it didn't matter! Here's the recipe and some pictures to urge you on toward your own leek adventure. I promise, I'll be cooking them again and soon. Perhaps a leek gratin or quiche or tart.....hhmmmmm.......

Creamy Leek and Potato Soup or Vichyssoise
1 lb. leeks, well washed and drained (about 3 large leeks)
1 lb peeled russet potatoes, cut into chunks for cooking
Frying Smithfield Original Bacon

3 rashers "Smithfield" original bacon
2 cloves minced garlic
2 T. butter
6 c. chicken stock
4 c, water
1/2 c. dry white wine
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 c. heavy cream + a little for garnish
chives for garnish
In a large, heavy soup pot, cook the bacon over low to medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon and drain it well on a paper towel. Add the butter to the bacon fat in the pot and then the leeks. Cook them for 5 minutes until they begin to wilt and add the potatoes and garlic. Stir all the vegetables around in the pot until they are coated with the butter/fat mixture. 
Leeks and potatoes in the fat mixture
Add the stock, wine and water to your pot. Stir to combine and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Turn the heat down and add the salt and pepper. Partially cover the pot and let the soup cook over low heat for 1 hour and 15 minutes. By partially cover, I mean leave the top just off center so that the soup reduces and thickens, like this:
Partially covered soup pot

Watch it, you don't want it to boil over, just to gently bubble away. Lower heat worked fine on my gas stove. At the end of  1 hour, test your potatoes by sticking them with a knife to make sure they are tender. You may need to cook the soup another 15 or 20 minutes, depending on the size you cut the potatoes during the prep. When the potatoes are done and the soup is thickened, you'll need to puree your veggies. 
There are several ways to process the vegetables. I used my immersion blender, which is super easy to do. Let the soup cool a little before you start, put the immersion blender into the pot and begin blending in short bursts. You want the soup to be smooth and creamy.  You could also use a regular blender. Simply remove the potatoes and leeks (in batches) with a slotted spoon and puree them, then return them to the broth. You could run the vegetables through a food processor or a food mill. Whichever method you use, let the soup cool slightly before pureeing, to minimize the chance of getting splashed by boiling liquid or super hot vegetables. 
After the vegetables have been processed and returned to the soup, add the cream. Turn the heat on low to gently heat the cream and soup. Crumble the bacon and add it to the soup. Be careful not to let it boil. Taste the mixture and correct the seasoning -- you might need a little more salt or pepper, depending on the chicken stock you used. I always use lower sodium chicken stock and sometimes do need to add a little more salt at the end. Be careful, it's better to under-salt a dish than to over-salt one! This will make at least 6 bowls of soup. Garnish the soup with a tablespoon of cream and some chives. To make Vichyssoise-- that American invention we think is French -- simply cool the soup and serve it cold. We ate it one night for dinner, along with spinach salad. The rest made it's way to several delicious lunches and yes, one of the lunches I ate it cold. I knew I couldn't sell it to my husband, but I liked it just fine. 
Bon Appetit!