I’ve always looked at those large pasta shells (manicotti) on store shelves with great longing, vividly imagining that stuffing any kind of cheese or vegetables into that large tube-like shape would undeniably result in something very delicious, pretty-looking and very Italian. Besides, my husband had a very nice Italian wine (you can see it in the photo below – it’s Aiola Chianti Classico), and he, in turn, was anxious to pair this wine with a good traditional Italian pasta dish. The stars seemed to be aligned for me to finally tackle the recipe for stuffed manicotti pasta shells. I decided to go the traditional route and stuff the shells with ricotta cheese and chopped spinach filling, accompanied by a red tomato sauce.
Talking about stars, a friend of mine who works in Moscow, just happened to be in Chelyabinsk 2 days ago. If you haven’t heard, Chelyabinsk (a city in Siberia with a population of over 1 million people) is where a meteor entered the atmosphere on Feb. 15, 2013, lighting up the sky and then exploding, sending shock waves through the city. Buildings got damaged, glass windows got shattered, people were injured. So, my friend just posted on his Facebook page several photos of the shattered windows and walls at his plant and a photo of a very wide white steamy streak from the meteor across the sky. Interesting thing is that he usually works out of Moscow and just happened to be in Chelyabinsk on the very day that the meteor entered the atmosphere and exploded. He wrote that he felt humble and that his usual everyday problems all of a sudden seemed unimportant compared to this completely uncontrollable event. How scary it must have been for him to just randomly happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. On a second thought, though, maybe he was in the right place at the right time? He did not get injured (and those who did are reported to have non life-threatening injuries) and he got to witness something that happens only once in hundreds of years, something of truly cosmic proportions.
My recipe for stuffed manicotta pasta all of a sudden seems very unimportant in comparison to this cosmic event, yet I will continue with the recipe because it is SO good, and the garlicky tomato sauce goes SO well with the ricotta, Parmesan, and spinach stuffed into these very large pasta shells. Did I forget to say that it is a very easy and fast to make? Please enjoy!
Stuffed manicotti pasta shells with ricotta cheese and spinach filling
Prep time: 60 min
- 9 Manicotti pasta shells
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 bunch spinach
- 1 cup grated Parmesan
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, chopped
- 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon basil
- 1/2 cup red wine
- salt and pepper
- grated Parmesan cheese to serve
To make ricotta cheese and spinach filling:
1) Cook spinach in 1 tablespoon olive oil until wilted. Drain of all juices, and chop spinach.
2) In a medium pan, mix together ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese and cooked spinach from step 1. Salt to taste.
To cook and assemble pasta:
3) Cook Manicotti pasta shells according to instructions, usually by boiling for 10 minutes. Drain, cool briefly and immediately fill pasta shells with ricotta cheese and spinach filling. Don’t let the shells sit out unfilled for too long, because they will flatten, lose their shape and when you try to fill them, they will break. Start filling the shells immediately after draining them and briefly cooling. Set aside and keep them warm in a warm drawer.
To make tomato sauce:
4) Heat olive oil over medium heat, add onion, garlic and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Add tomatoes and basil and wine and cook on low heat, covered, for about 40 minutes. Place the sauce in food processor and process until puree consistency. Return the sauce to the same pan, re-heat gently and add salt and pepper to taste.
Pour a small amount of tomato sauce in the middle of the individual plate. Place 2 or 3 filled pasta shells on top of the sauce in middle of the plate, then pour more sauce on top and around pasta shells. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and cracked fresh pepper on top of red sauce.