Friday, July 5, 2013

Who needs Olive Garden? or Manicotti with Homemade Noodles

I'm back!

Did you miss me?

Did you even know I was gone?

This is another post entirely, but we unexpectedly moved to Rock Springs, WY a week ago. I will tell you all about it...but I figured you'd all want a recipe more than reading the life and times of a diva named Brittany right now... goes...

There it is! That hankering! That craving you just can't want Italian food....No- you don't want to pop open a can of premade spaghetti sauce and boil some want something CLASSY...something a little more refined than a pile of noodles on a plate. Maybe its your anniversary? Maybe its a date night?...and maybe you're as poor as a church mouse and can't afford to go to Olive Garden or some other Italian place like Carinos, etc. and spend $10-30 a plate on a meal...

Don't worry friend...I've got your back! YOU TOO CAN MAKE DELICIOUS ITALIAN DISHES AT HOME AND IT IS EASY!!!


Yes...those cheese filled tubes are calling your name...but those Manicotti noodles you buy at the store...they are so cumbersome, aren't they? You have to take 20 minutes to boil them and then half of them split in half as you're trying to fill them and your Manicotti ends up looking like a sad mess and not an elegant, refined, date night kind of meal...

But, what if there was another way? What if you could make your own noodles and it would be SUPER easy and take less time than boiling and filling those premade tubes of yuck....

I have the way my high school I was introduced to this method by a sweet old lady on the first, and only real date I ever went on (again, a story for another day).  It was the Commencement dance. We went to some lady's house for dinner (I can't for the life of me remember her name.) and she made the most delicious Manicotti EVER and when she found out I was so interested in the recipe. She divulged to me her secret for the noodles...CREPES...

It changed my life, and its about to change it is...

Better than a Restaurant Manicotti:

 For the "Noodles" (crepes)

Mix 1 c flour
2 eggs
1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt.

It will be runny like the picture below. Try to get as many of the lumps as you can out of it as you whisk it.

Lightly spray either a crepe pan (pictured below) or if you don't have one, a small 6 inch/8 inch frying pan and heat it up over medium heat. Pour a thin layer of the mixture into the pan after it heats, making sure that it will spread out to the edge of the pan. If you have a crepe pan, put the top part down and let it cook, if you are using a small frying pan, just let it sit and cook until the edges are starting to firm up and turn slightly brown.

Flip the crepe by either flipping the pan (with crepe pan) or using a spatula and let it sit for 5-10 seconds. You only want to make sure there is no raw batter left. You should be left with a round that is slightly browned on one side and shiny like a cooked noodle on the other, like so:
So the crepe doesn't stick to the plate, be sure to put a napkin beneath it. They shouldn't stick to one another if you have cooked off all the raw batter.This batch should make 10-12 crepes. Enough to fill a 9x13 pan across.

Spray the pan again, and repeat until all the crepes are made. This process should take as little as 10 minutes to complete.

Once you have your crepes, you can make your filling. My favorite thing to do is take this basic cheese filling that I will share the recipe for, and add some cooked chicken (boiled or pan fried and cut into small chunks), bell peppers, and about a clove of minced garlic (or 1/2 tsp of garlic powder) to make a unique and VERY tasty dish...but I told you we just you get to see the basic cheese recipe...

In a bowl mix:
One 15 oz carton of Ricotta (ignore your inner urge to be cheap and try to use cottage will be runny and won't work...yes, cottage cheese can work if you drain ALL the whey off the cheese curds, but then it takes 3 times the cottage cheese to make the recipe work, not to mention 5 times the work and effort, and it won't be cheaper by then...besides...COTTAGE CHEESE ISN'T HOW THE ITALIANS DO IT...we are trying to be better than Olive Garden here!
1 egg
1/2 c parmesan cheese
1/2-1 cup shredded cheese of your choice (Italians would use Mozzarella, but if all you have in the house is cheddar or colby jack...fine...)
1/4 tsp of salt
1 TBS of parsley

(at this point you can add the aforementioned chicken recipe above, but mine is just going to be the cheese mixture. Its okay that its a little dry. You don't want it to be runny and cook out the sides of the noodle shells)

Now, pull out your 9x13 pan. Open your spaghetti sauce of choice (if we hadn't moved, mine would have been my homemade spaghetti sauce that I make in the crock pot and then freeze the leftovers for Italian dishes down the line, but I didn't have time and we are still living out of boxes, so I used my favorite store brand which is Prego Heart Smart Traditional- I love the Veggie Smart, but I don't think they sell it anymore, I haven't been able to find it for a while. P.S. I will leave the recipe for my crock pot, freezer sauce at the end of this blog.)

Pour about a half of your bottle of spaghetti sauce (maybe a cup to cup and a half worth) onto the bottom of the pan and spread it out.

Then, add one heaping spoonful of your cheese mix to the middle of one of your crepe noodles on the browned side. Roll it like a taco, being sure to make sure that the pasta spread out almost to the ends of the rolls. Place on top of the sauce in the pan seam side down to prevent it from unrolling.

Top with remaining sauce and sprinkle with about a cup (or more depending on how cheesy you like it) of shredded cheese and sprinkle with parmesan.
Cover with aluminum foil (shiny side down, facing the food for you cooking novices out there...this helps direct the heat to the food and makes it cook evenly) and bake at 375 degrees (fahrenheit...saw a complaint on another blog from our friends in Australia since they cook using a different meter on their ovens) for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for another 10-15 minutes until the cheeses are browned a bit and bubbling...

Et Voila' ! 

(sorry we dug in before I could get a picture of the finished product...) 

I am not a super heavy eater and I eat 1-2 noodles, my husband will eat 2-3. If you get all 12 in the pan, that means it will serve 4-6 people...and for WAY cheaper than the Olive Garden... You can also fry some ground meat and add it to the sauce before you sauce your pan and your noodles...but this vegetarian version is just as won't even miss the meat. I know my husband doesn't (and he is one of the biggest carnivores I know!)

As promised...for those of you interested. Here is my recipe for Crock Pot Spaghetti Sauce. I usually just spoon it into quart freezer bags. I find that I usually only need one bag to make a recipe that serves about 4 people.  It will store for 3 months. It works out to be much cheaper than buying store bought sauce...and its MUCH more tasty! I seem to remember it making 4-6 bags of sauce.

2 (15 oz) cans of diced tomatoes (you can use stewed, but I find those chunks are too big. You can also use Italian style diced tomatoes to add some increased flavor, if you're fond of basil and oregano)
3 cans (15 oz) tomato sauce
2 TBS minced onion (dried or fresh, doesn't matter- fresh is much more pungent) or onion powder
2 TBS parsley
2 tsp Italian Seasoning herbs
3 tsp salt
3 tsp sugar
2 tsp minced garlic or garlic powder
(optional) 1/2 diced small and fine green pepper (I don't always have it on hand, and I've made it without the green pepper and it tastes just as awesome.)

Pour all ingredients in the crock pot. Stir well together. Cook on low for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally. 

Let cool and spoon into quart bags or jars and freeze. Be sure to write the date so you know when its "past its prime"

Bon Appetit until next time, darlings!

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