Artichoke and Spinach Manicotti Pasta
I stuffed my manicotti with artichoke and spinach, and served the dish gratin-style with a layer of mozzarella cheese over the top and a bed of marinara sauce beneath. The artichoke and spinach mixture evokes the flavors of a dip, which contrasts nicely with the brightness of the marinara.
This is one of my favorite pasta dishes because it's very easy to make, while at the same time having great presentation value. Manicotti have the added benefit of freezing extremely well, so I always make them in large batches.
Yields: 8 servings1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed at room temperature
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained
1 teaspoon red chili pepper
1 (8-ounce) package manicotti pasta
10 ounces ricotta cheese
1/2 cup Pecorino cheese
2 cups fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
4-½ cups milk, warmed for 2 minutes in the microwave
4 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 (24-ounce) jar marinara sauce, store-bought and warmed for 2 minutes in the microwave
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
For the manicotti pasta: Bring about 8 quarts of water to a boil. Add the pasta, bring back to a boil and immediately lower the heat to a gentle boil. That way the pasta will cook evenly all the way through. Cook the pasta for about 10-11 minutes total. Salt (with 2/3 teaspoon) the water half-way through the cooking process (it will bring out the natural flavor of the pasta and the pasta will be more tender) and keep stirring every now and then so the pasta doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot. It may take longer than the cooking time that's written on the box.
When the pasta is cooked (both inside and out but still in shape and firm), drain the pasta (do NOT rinse). Transfer it to a large flat platter. Drizzle with about 1 tablespoon of oil to prevent them from sticking to each other.
For the artichoke and spinach:
Coarsely chop the artichoke hearts into small chunks. Set aside.
Chop 1 third of the amount of mozzarella into small chunks. Set aside.
Drain and remove as much liquid as possible from the thawed spinach.
In a medium-sized pan, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic and shallot and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the artichoke pieces to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chili flakes. Cook until each side is brown (for about 3-4 minutes). Add the spinach and slightly sauté it for about 2 minutes. Season with salt (this will prevent the spinach from changing color and will keep it bright green). Turn off the heat. Let the mixture cool. Transfer the mixture, with as little liquid as possible, into a large bowl. Reserve the excess spinach liquid in a separate bowl.
Using food service disposable gloves (or a spoon), mash the artichoke/spinach mixture. Add the chopped mozzarella and ricotta cheese. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with about 2 tablespoons of flat-leaf parsley and 3 tablespoons of Pecorino cheese.
For the béchamel sauce:
In a saucepan, melt 8 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat; you don't want the butter to burn. Bring the heat back up to medium-high (the butter should be hot and golden) and add the flour. Keep stirring manually with a whisk for approximately 3 minutes. The flour should absorb the butter instantly and form a paste. Add the spinach liquid; stir well until incorporated and add the milk in 3 stages. Increase the heat while constantly stirring for about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Season with salt and pepper. Combine ½ of the sauce with the artichoke and spinach mixture. Let the rest of the sauce rest until it's time to assemble the dish.
In a 14” x 10” x 3” rectangular pan lined with aluminum foil and sprayed with oil (for easy clean up), add the marinara sauce. Stuff the manicotti with the artichoke and spinach mixture and place the stuffed pasta shells into the pan. Ladle the rest of the white sauce over the pasta shells. Cover with the rest of the slices of mozzarella. Sprinkle on the rest of the Pecorino cheese.
Bake in the oven for 5 minutes at 375°F, lower the temperature to 350°F and cook for another 25 minutes. Broil for about 2-3 minutes to get a nice golden top (if necessary). Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes. Garnish with the rest of the flat-leaf parsley.
For the filling, you can substitute any other ingredients such as corn, sun dried tomatoes, chopped Portobello mushrooms or peas.
If you don't have any flat-leaf parsley, you can use any other herbs such as cilantro, curly parsley or basil.
If you like, you can sprinkle on a bit more finely grated Pecorino cheese right before serving.
To make béchamel sauce, I always make sure all the ingredients are at the same temperature, so be sure to heat the milk in the microwave for about 2 minutes (or in a saucepan), so it's warm. If you get lumpy pieces in the sauce, don't hesitate to use a hand blender.
If you have béchamel sauce left-over, don't discard it. Just store it for later and use it as a sauce for a croque-monsieur sandwich (ham and cheese sandwich).
I used mozzarella cheese for its neutral flavor. It allows the spinach and artichoke to really shine. You can use any kind of cheese that "strings" when melted, such as Monterey Jack cheese.
And If you're a pasta lover, check out my other pasta dishes.Published By: on January 7, 2010.