We made this manicotti when my friend Andrea was supposed to be in Italy for the first time. Unfortunately, her flight from NY to Italy was cancelled by Hurricane Sandy and last Saturday night she ended up eating dinner with us instead of at a little bistro in Rome. We tried to recreate the Italian bistro experience for her (although we couldn’t procure a cute Italian waiter on such short notice, sorry Andrea!). My friend Anne (who I met in Rome!) provided red table wine, crusty garlic bread and a wilted salad to complete the taste and atmosphere of an evening in Italy.
This manicotti is an awesome mix of flavors and textures created by the mingling of shallots, sausage, garlic, mushroom, and spinach. We cheated a bit by using a jarred marinara but the shortcut saves a couple hours and makes the dish more approachable since the preparation of the fillings and the stuffing of the pasta require some time and effort in and of themselves. If you’re looking to go to Italy without getting on a plane (or if your flight to Italy was cancelled) make this manicotti!
Sausage, Spinach and Mushroom Manicotti
Approximately 12 ounces Italian hot or mild sausages (about 3 sausages)
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 shallot or about 1/2 cup, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup baby bella mushrooms, finely chopped
2 cups fresh spinach, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 26-ounce jar of marinara sauce
2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese or one 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 box Barilla manicotti (large tubular pasta)
1 Tbs. olive oil
For the filling:
Place sausages in skillet over medium heat. Remove skins of sausages and cook for about five minutes, stirring until the sausage is browned and crumbled. Drain the fat and finely chop the sausage, set aside.
In a separate skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat; add onion. Cook the onion for about 5 minutes; until it begins to brown and soften. Stir in garlic, mushrooms, spinach, crushed red pepper and salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 more minutes, stirring frequently. Add sausage to this mixture and set aside.
Place ricotta in medium bowl. Mix in 1 cup Mozzarella, Parmesan, and black pepper. Stir sausage mixture into cheese mixture. Season filling to taste with salt and pepper. Make SURE you add enough salt! This can make it or break it!
(Sauce and filling can be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately and chill.)
Cook manicotti in large pot of boiling salted water for seven minutes.
Using tongs, carefully transfer manicotti from pot to foil-lined baking sheet and cool.
Brush olive oil over bottom of 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish AND an 8×8 baking dish; spread a layer of marinara sauce over. Using teaspoon and your fingers, fill each of the manicotti with about 1/3 cup cheese-sausage mixture. Arrange stuffed pasta in single layer in prepared dishes and spoon remaining sauce over. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover with plastic wrap; let stand at room temperature.)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup Mozzarella atop sauce. Bake manicotti uncovered until heated through and sauce is bubbling on bottom of dish, about 20 minutes. Let manicotti stand 5 minutes and serve.