I’ve been cooking variations on this dish for about eight years now. The original recipe came off of the Muellers Pasta Manicotti box. When I first started cooking it I was quite intimidated by the concepts involved because I was early in my cooking career, but it is really not that hard to make—it just takes a little time and the results are definitely worth the efforts.
Last night I threw together a variation on my standard tomato sauce by tossing in some ground beef and Italian sausage. You can use the hollow tubular Manicotti shells or the Jumbo Shells that look like seashells. Either one yields basically the same dish, but the Jumbo Shells are easier to stuff. Here is what you will need…
Tomato Meat Sauce:
1 tsp extra virgin expeller pressed olive oil
½ medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced fine
(1) 28 oz can petite diced tomatoes
(1) 14.5 oz can pureed tomatoes
(1) Can beef stock
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried parsley
½ tbsp dried basil
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
¼ tsp paprika
½ lb lean ground chuck
1 link Italian sausage
For the Stuffing:
2 eggs, lightly beaten
One 8 oz package Mozzarella cheese
Two 15 oz packages Ricotta Cheese
½ cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
½ cup chopped parsley
One 8 oz package mozzarella cheese
Start the sauce first. Pour the olive oil into the bottom of a six quart boiler over medium low heat. Dice your onion and toss it in the oil and cook for a few minutes, then throw in you garlic and cook until the onions are clear.
Add the canned tomatoes to the onions and garlic, then add the beef stock and stir it all up. Next add the spices and bring everything to a low simmer and cook for a half hour, stirring every now and then.
While your sauce is simmering, lightly brown your ground beef and sausage in a medium skillet. Drain off any grease that cooks out of the meat.
Meanwhile, in a medium mixing bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, the mozzarella cheese, the parsley, the beaten eggs, and the spices. Stir everything up to mix well and place it in the refrigerator to chill.
After the sauce has cooked for a half hour or so, add the browned meat and stir it all up. Keep cooking at a low simmer.
After the sauce has cooked and reduced for a while, place a six quart boiler on the stove and fill with four quarts of salted water. Add a splash of olive oil. Bring the water to a boil and add your pasta (shells or manicotti.) Cook according to the package instructions, about 14 or 15 minutes. Don’t get all excited and stir the pasta too much because you will tear these big old shells if you are not careful.
Drain the shells through a colander, and toss them with a little olive oil, again being careful to not tear them up while handling them. Now set them aside to let them cool.
Turn off the heat on the sauce and preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, get out a 9” x 13” Pyrex baking dish, and grease the inside of the dish. Now, while the oven is preheating, stuff your shells with the cheese mixture. Wash your hands and don’t be afraid to get the mixture on you while you work with it. For the Manicotti, I find that you can use the handle end of a butter knife as a “plunger” to push the cheese mixture into the shell from each end. Work over the bowl and keep stuffing until some of the mixture comes back out the other end.
The jumbo shells are easier to stuff because you can just spread them open with your thumb and fingers and spoon the stuffing into each shell. Place your stuffed pasta in uniform rows in the bottom of the baking dish. I usually get five shells side by side in about five or six rows. Don’t worry about using all of your shells—just stuff the number that you need to fill the bottom of the baking dish.
Now evenly spoon the tomato meat sauce over the stuffed shells to cover, sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top, and pop the dish in the oven to cook for 30 minutes.
Step back from the stove and give yourself a nice round of applause. Now rinse off your pots and pans and load the dishwasher while you drink a glass of wine in anticipation of dinner.
When the shells are done, pull the dish out of the oven and allow it to cool for ten or fifteen minutes. Place a couple of large pasta bowls in the oven to warm.
With a large spatula, cut and lift out two or three stuffed shells and some sauce and place in the center of the pasta bowls. Grate some fresh parmesan cheese on top, grab a fork and napkin, and EAT.
The Redneck Gourmet