Friday, January 28, 2011

Popeye Was Right!

I love spinach: salad, creamed, sautéed with bacon and garlic, and stuffed into manicotti tubes and baked in a Pecorino sauce. Popeye had it right, spinach is really good for you; lots of vitamins and minerals, and it can be used in lots of different ways. 

A winter vegetable, the spinach we are seeing right now is gorgeous, dark green in color and full of flavor. 

My Italian family is coming to town in a few weeks, and I need to get a few things into the freezer so that I’m prepared.  It’s a joy to have them come—they have such a love for life, and give me renewed energy.  Tonight I made manicotti stuffed with spinach and ricotta and will freeze it for a luncheon or dinner side dish.  It’s simple and delicious, and can even be made in your slow cooker!

Spinach and Ricotta Manicotti
Serves 6
For the Noodles
One 8-ounce package Manicotti noodles
Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil.  Boil the noodles for 5 minutes (or half the time suggested on the package)  Drain the noodles, and separate them on a sheet of waxed paper or aluminum foil to cool.  

For the Filling
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Two 10-ounce packages baby spinach
Salt and pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/4 cup whole milk ricotta
1 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

In a 10 to 12-inch skillet, heat the oil, and swirl the garlic in the pan for 30 seconds, until fragrant.  Add the spinach, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook until the spinach is wilted, and there is no more liquid in the bottom of the pan. 
Transfer the mixture to a food processor, and add the ricotta, and Parmigiano, pulsing on and off until the mixture comes together.  Transfer to a bowl, and refrigerate if not making immediately.

For the Pecorino Cream Sauce
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups grated Pecorino Romano cheese
4 drops Tabasco

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and swirl the garlic in the pan for 30 seconds, until fragrant.  Add the flour, and whisk for 2 to 3 minutes to cook the flour.  Slowly add the broth and cream, bring the sauce back to a boil until it is thickened.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheese, whisking until the cheese is melted.  Season with salt if necessary, and stir in the Tabasco; at this point the sauce can be cooled and refrigerated for up to 4 days. 
To assemble:

Coat the inside of a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread a thin layer of cream sauce over the bottom of the pan.  When the manicotti tubes are cooled, fill them with the spinach mixture.  I used a pastry bag, cut the tip off and fit the tip into the tube, and squeezed the filling into the tubes. Lay the tubes on the cream sauce, repeat until all the tubes are filled.  Spread the remaining sauce over the manicotti.  Cover and bake for 30 minutes, uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling, and begins to turns golden.  Let the manicotti rest for 10 minutes before serving.  

Cook's Note:  I used Barilla Manicotti noodles; by cooking them 1/2 the time,they will finish cooking in the oven, rather than becoming mushy.  If you use a no-cook noodle, make sure to make additional sauce, because no-cook noodles absorb more than cooked noodles. 

I hope you'll eat your spinach, just like Popeye recommended, and enjoy the benefits of this great veggie.  Have a great weekend and I'll be back on Monday.

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