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! 

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