Mags’ Cheesy Manicotti

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Today is my little sister-in-law Mags’ birthday and I promised her a pasta dish.  Because I’m not around to make it for her in person, perhaps she can persuade Mrs. Nice to whip it up for a birthday treat.  Her brother certainly enjoyed it.  Happy birthday Mags!

The measurements for this are approximate, and I’m going to jump back and forth between metric and Imperial because I’m Canadian and I can.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Plop about 500g thawed frozen spinach in a bowl, together with 500g cottage cheese, 1/2 cup strong-flavoured cheese, grated (I used romano, but parmesan would also be good), and 2 teaspoons dried oregano.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Stir it silly and then season with pepper.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Take a jar of chunky tomato-based pasta sauce and spread 1/3 of it on the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking dish.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Now take a package of uncooked manicotti shells (usually there are 14 shells in a box) and stuff them with the cottage cheese/spinach mixture. Lay them on top of the sauce in the dish.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

This was my first one, which I tried to stuff with a spoon.  I got a little too enthusiastic and it exploded everywhere.  After that I used my fingers. And I’m still trying to figure out how to get the spinach out of my kitchen stereo speakers.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

And then when I got to the end of my pan I found I had run out of space, so that’s why they are all spastic here.  Plus I dropped in the leftover cottage cheese/spinach mix as well.  Aesthetics are not really my strong suit.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Mix 1/2 cup water with the remainder of your pasta sauce and pour it over the top of the uncooked stuffed noodles.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Bake, uncovered, for an hour, until it is bubbling all the way through.  Then sprinkle with 2 cups grated mozzarella and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Let your lava-like pasta stand for a few minutes before serving.  Not the most attractive photo, but that didn’t stop the Pie from going back for seconds.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Tofu Feature Month: Corn and Tofu au Gratin

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

This quick and warm meal comes just in time for the start of school and our rainy season here in Newfoundland.  So while the wind howls outside our windows, averaging 75km/h (on a relatively calm day), and the rain patters through the holes in our leaky roof, we can curl up after a long day at school with this comforting little casserole.   I pulled it from Metro’s recipe site, and modified it a bit because I can’t find chipotle purée anywhere (hint, hint: stocking stuffers, people).

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Chop up about 1/2 a small onion.

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

In a large skillet, heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat.  Chuck in your chopped onion and 2 teaspoons minced garlic and sweat that stuff for a minute or so.

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

Next, crumble up 1 (1lb) package firm tofu and dump that into the pan.

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

Add in 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 2 teaspoons chipotle seasoning (chipotle purée if you can get it), 1 teaspoon dried oregano, and the leaves from 4 sprigs of fresh thyme.

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

Also add 1 12oz can of corn, drained (you could probably use thawed frozen corn, too). This is the world’s best can opener, by the way. We got it at Lee Valley. You should get one.

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

Then add 1 cup vegetable broth.

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

Stir that around and reduce for 5-10 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed or evaporated.

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

Transfer the whole shebang to a baking dish and top with 7oz crumbled chèvre (goat’s cheese).

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

Bake until the cheese is melty (chèvre doesn’t get all runny, so you have to keep an eye on it), about 10 minutes, and serve right away.  Fantastic reheated the next day as well.

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

Risotto Cakes with Roasted Vegetables in Rose Sauce

I went to lunch last Saturday with Kª (of KK fame, otherwise known as The Lady Downstairs) at The Rooms, St. John’s only museum/archives/art gallery/restaurant.

One of the few vegetarian options on the menu was risotto cakes with roasted vegetables in a rosé sauce, so I ordered it, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

The Pie and I kind of have a policy where we won’t order it in a restaurant if we can make it ourselves, and I think this is one of those things that I could easily re-create.

I had to think about this for a bit, and do some research.  I haven’t made risotto in years and the last time I did so things ended badly.  Not only did this risotto have to be well-done, but I had to figure out how to bake it into wedges.

I also had to think about the sauce I was going to use.  I could just buy some rosé sauce in a jar from the store, but I figure if I was going to take the time and have the patience to make risotto that turned out right, then I was going to make the effort to create an original sauce to put it in.

Also, I was on a quest for the right kind of roasting vegetables.  The vegetables I had at the restaurant were red, yellow, and green peppers, with eggplant and I believe zucchini.  I was going to do it with red peppers only, onions, zucchini, and butternut squash because I couldn’t find any eggplant anywhere (you make do with what you have, right?).

The nice thing about this recipe, I think, is you can do all three parts separately and ahead of time, and then heat the whole thing up later on.

Toss in a bowl with pepper and salt.
Oiled up like a Turkish oil wrestler.

So let’s start with the vegetables.  Preheat your oven to 400°F. Cut one large onion into eighths and chuck in a large baking pan.  Chop 2 small zucchini into thick discs and add it to the pan, along with a red pepper, cut into long thick strips, and one butternut squash, seeds and stringy bits removed, cut into wedges.  Season with salt and pepper, and toss with olive oil until all the vegetables are coated.  It’s easiest to do the tossing in a bowl, actually.  Cover tightly with foil and bake until golden and aromatically soft, about 30 minutes or so.  I then uncovered them and baked them for a further 30 minutes so they crispened up a tad.  Use your judgment.  Leave the vegetables to cool for a bit while you do other things, but leave the oven on.

Roasty toasty.

While the vegetables are doing their thing you can start on your sauce.

Finely chop about 6 or 7 regular-sized mushrooms.  Sauté them in a large pan with a bit of butter and a bit of olive oil (the oil keeps the butter from burning) until brown and tender.   Add 3 or 4 teaspoons of minced garlic (from a jar, because that’s how I roll) and reduce the heat.

Sautee with butter.
Spice it up.
Add cream and stir carefully.

Add a 28oz can (about 800mL) of crushed tomatoes to the pan.  Add a 5oz (150mL) can of tomato paste and mix evenly over medium heat.  Sprinkle in generous amounts of dried parsley, dried basil, and dried oregano.  Let this simmer for about 15 minutes, then add 1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream (whipping cream).  Alternately, you can use plain yogurt or coconut milk.  Stir carefully until fully integrated, then reduce heat to low and leave it like that, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

Now we can work on that risotto of ours.  In a medium saucepan, melt some butter with some olive oil (again, to prevent the butter from burning), and chuck in one whole onion, diced.  Sauté that sucker for a little while until translucent.

Saute until translucent

Add in one cup arborio rice (that’s right, it’s not actually called risotto — risotto is what you make out of it), one cup of dry white wine, and a heaping tablespoon of powdered vegetable broth.  Stir at high heat and allow the liquid to evaporate.

Add wine and rice.

Add one cup boiling (or very hot) water to rice and stir occasionally to release the stuff that sticks to the bottom.  After about 3 or 4 minutes, the water will have been absorbed by the rice.  Repeat this step twice more, so the total amount of liquid you will have added will be 3 cups of water and one cup of wine.  It will take about 20 minutes for the risotto to achieve its signature creamy consistency.  While it’s doing that, carefully butter a springform pan and set it aside.

Creamy risotto

Add 2 tablespoons butter to the rice as well as 3 tablespoons grated romano cheese.  Remove from heat and beat in 2 eggs.

Quickly stir in the eggs.
Level the top.
Bake until set and golden.

Pour the risotto mixture into the buttered springform pan and level the top.  Pop the pan in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the ‘cake’ is firm and golden.  Allow to cool for about 15 minutes.

Run a soft spatula around the edges of the ‘cake’ and pop it from the springform pan.  Allow to cool a bit more, then cut into wedges.

Cool and cut into wedges.

While the risotto cake is cooling, go back to your vegetables.  Peel the skin from the roasted squash and roughly cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces.

Add the vegetables to the rose sauce and heat the whole thing up until it starts to bubble a bit.

Heat up the vegetables and sauce.

Arrange one or two wedges in a bowl and surround with vegetables and sauce.  Sprinkle with more grated romano cheese.  Serves 4-6.

I hope you're hungry.