Fresh spinach combined with ricotta cheese? Yes, I believe I will. Spinach and ricotta stuffed into manicotti shells and baked with a creamy cheese sauce? Oh yes indeed!
This one take a little bit of time, but it is well worth the extra effort. Your food processor will be extremely helpful with shredding the cheese and blending everything for the stuffing together.
The original recipe was for this to be a crock pot dish. If you decide to go that route, only cook the noodles for half the recommended time on the package and increase the chicken or vegetable broth to 1 1/2 cups.
9 oz. package of manicotti noodles, cooked and drained
For the filling:
2 T. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 10 oz. packages baby spinach
Freshly ground black pepper
1/8 t. freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 t. dried Italian seasoning blend
1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta
1 1/2 cups fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
For the cheese sauce:
4 T. unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
3 T. all purpose flour
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup heavy cream
1 2/c cups freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
dash of salt
1/8 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/8 t. dried red pepper flakes
1/8 t. freshly ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and heat for about 30 seconds or so, just until you begin to smell the garlic.
Add the spinach a few handfuls at a time and let it begin to cook down. Continue until all the spinach is wilted and then add the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Let the spinach cook until no liquid remains in the skillet or you can place it in a fine mesh sieve and, using a spatula, gently press out the remaining liquid.
Place the spinach in the food processor with the blade attachment. Add the ricotta and Parmigiano cheese. Pulse until mixture blends together.
Now we will make the sauce:
Use a medium saucepan. Add the butter and let it melt over low heat. Add the garlic and let it warm with the butter for about 30 seconds. Add flour and whisk for 2 - 3 minutes until the raw taste of the flour is cooked out. Slowly add the broth and cream and bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. The sauce will begin to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in cheese until it is melted and blended in with the sauce. Stir in the salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and nutmeg.
Spray a 9 x 13 casserole dish with non-stick spray. Spoon and spread a layer of sauce in the bottom of the casserole dish. Using a small spoon or a piping bag, fill the shells with the spinach/ricotta filling.
Place the filled manicotti shells in the dish and continue until the filling and shells are all used. Pour remaining sauce over the manicotti. Bake for 25 minutes. If the manicotti is not browned enough for you, place under the broiler for just a minute or two.
Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes or so before serving. Sprinkle additional Italian herbs on top if you'd like.
Adapted from The Mediterranean Slow Cooker Cookbook.