Thursday, April 22, 2010

Citrus manicotti

This is somehow so much more than the sum of its parts--a light citrusy ricotta filling wrapped in fresh pasta then baked for just a hot second under an incredibly simple sauce. I need to do a little self-congratulation here, because this is one of my favorite things I have ever made. This weekend we made crepes and I had a stack leftover so my friend Jamie suggested I use them as shells for manicotti. It's basically just fresh pasta after all--eggs, flour, salt and milk or water. But we'll get to that in a second, first we need to talk about this yummy light tomato sauce. I am used to sautéing onions in olive oil, then adding garlic and tomatoes and whatever else to create my basic red sauce. But something about that just sounded too hefty and pungent for the delicate citrus filling I had in mind. So I looked around for a light sauce and found many references to a sauce where you basically just simmer tomatoes with onion or other aromatics then swirl in some butter at the end. That's it! Here's the version I came up with, somewhat based on James Beard's.Roughly chop up one big onion and add it to a 28-ounce can of tomatoes along with 2 leaves of basil and salt and pepper.I let it simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables were soft.Add in 4 tablespoons butter and let them melt into the goodness.I wanted a smooth sauce, but if you like chunks you can leave it as it is. Otherwise, get your immersion blender out! I love power tools in the kitchen...Puree as smoothly as you want. Now thinking about it, I should have waited until after I pureed to add the butter--I think it over-emulsified when I blended the sauce. But so good. This is my new favorite red sauce, people. While the sauce is simmering, you can put together the filling. Hey, check out my basil! Looking good already.I used about 7 big leaves, which seemed about correct proportion to 1 small container of ricotta and zest off one lemon.Chiffonade the basil and mix together with the lemon zest, ricotta, salt, pepper, one egg and 2 tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan.Now about that pasta! If you have manicotti shells from the store, those will work fine too. Otherwise you can use your own favorite pasta recipe...or just make a batch of crepes, like I did. As long as you don't add sugar to your crepe batter, they are perfect to use for baked pasta.I cut off the sides from my raggedy circles in order to make them roll up neatly.Now Phil will demonstrate his manicotti rolling technique for you. First, a scoop of filling...Then roll up gently, under the watchful eyes of a hungry little dog.And place gently, seam side down, in a baking dish. Ours split a little bit because the crepes were from the weekend and had dried out a little bit. That's OK though, the sauce will cover all...Cover them with sauce and let bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. They don't need a lot of time--just enough for everything to heat up and for flavors to meld.Then scoop them out and enjoy a beautiful evening with your new best friend, citrus manicotti.

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