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My “meaty”, vegetarian version of this Italian favorite I often covet (but avoid at all costs), contains only 220 cal each and 13g of protein. A moderate amount of three cheeses gives it a rich flavor, while Italian seitan or meatless sausage increase the protein content. If you and your family are trying to master “Meatless Mondays”, this recipe will be make healthy eating feel special!
Baby, its cold outside…
I’m a huge fan of cooking during the winter because I love being able to make heartier entrees that use the oven. Unlike the summer, using the oven to heat the apartment is enjoyable this time of year. But along with comfort food and heavier layers of clothing, the cold can also beckon a bit of extra “padding” around my middle. My manicotti are a treat, not because its they’re too unhealthy to eat more than once a year, but because they’re easy to make, vegetarian, and guiltless!
Meaty and Meatless.
I love Upton’s Seitan! Sure, I may be biased after living in Chicago for a bit, but its truly a great product. It’ll run you the same cost or less as any decent lean ground sirloin or Chicken Italian Sausage. Although on its own seitan may have an unusual texture, once its mixed in with the cheeses it really adds something special. It also packs a punch of protein which is great for growing kids, and those of us adults who get too busy to eat right.
The other option if you can find Upton’s is a more common brand, Tofurky. (It’ll probably be either in the produce section, or the dairy section. Don’t ask me why.) They have an Italian sausage, that again isn’t my preference on its own. But diced up and thrown into these manicotti, it’s pretty darn phenomenal. You’ll have half a package unused, so I like to pop it in a freezer bag and save it for the next time I want to make these.
“Sauce” is made from tomatoes?!
Well, nowadays it can be hard to tell. My genuinely simple made-from-scratch tomato sauce adds flavor without adding preservatives, sodium, or tons of fat. Jarred pasta sauce you find at your local grocery store has become unrecognizable as containing tomatoes among all the flavorings, cheeses, sodium additives, corn syrup and creams. When I say my sauce is simple, I mean 4 ingredient simple, 3 of which you probably have in your kitchen right now.
The key to this sauce is using San Marzano Tomatoes. NO substitutions. (Beware of brands that say “San Marzano Style tomatoes. They’re going to be sour and unappetizing.) True San Marzanos, now readily available at the same grocery store as those other science project pasta sauces, are the best in the world. They aren’t tart or acidic. Instead, they’re fragrant, sweet, and overall exquisite. All I do is add a few simple things to enhance their flavor. But trust me, they don’t need much. A 28 oz can will run anywhere from $2.50-$5. That may seem expensive, but realize that nowadays jarred pasta sauces cost at least that.
Any day of the week.
Now, although these babies plate up beautifully, don’t save them for a “special occasion.” I love that they’re are a great “make ahead” meal and only get better a day or two after they’re cooked. Two of these and a large helping of pan cooked green beans, a nice salad, or sauteed carrots and you’ve got a satisfying and comforting Meatless Monday Meal.
Looking for a vegetarian dessert to follow up these Manicotti? Try (Vegetarian) Restaurant-Level Chocolate Mousse; 5 ingredients & 190 calories.
Make Ahead Dinner:
As I said before, these are a great “make ahead” meal. Follow the recipe all the way through covering filled shells with (cooled) sauce. Then, just cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. When you are ready, uncover and pop in the oven! They’ll take a bit longer to reach 165°, but other than that, don’t change a thing.
“Eazy Peazy Pastry Bag Squeezy.”
Filling a pastry bag is much easier than most people think. Holding it with the sides over your hand is pretty standard. Its helps to keep your hand clean, but for those of us with tiny hands, once the bag starts to fill up it can be hard to hang on to it. An easy remedy is to place that bag (or gallon size ziploc bag) into a large cup. (In my case, of course its one from a White Sox game!) Fold the edges over the side of the cup and fill with your ricotta mixture. Then, just pull up the sides, give the bag a twist, and snip the tip.
How to slice basil like a good little French Chef:
Chiffonade is the french word for ribbon. To slice your basil into “ribbons”, layer them on top of each other, roll, and run your knife through to slice. It makes prep go faster and gives pretty element of little strands of basil throughout your manicotti.
So what are your thoughts on Meatless Mondays?
Meaty, Vegetarian Manicotti
Makes 10 stuffed shells
- 15 oz tub skim ricotta cheese (1/3 cup reserved)
- 1/3 cup (1.5 oz) provolone cheese, diced
- 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes- you can omit this if kids will be eating
- 1 package (8oz) ground seitan or 1/2 package of Tofurky Italian Sausage
- 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, chiffonade (See photos above)
- 1 egg white
- 10 Manicotti Shells
- Pastry Bag or gallon size freezer bag
- 1 (28-ounce) can San Marzano DICED tomatoes with juice
- 2 tbsp EVOO, good quality
- 1 tsp Sea salt
- 3oz skim ricotta (about 1/3 cup) from the 15oz tub above
Make Sauce first:
- In a non-reactive saucepan* combine tomatoes, rough chopped garlic, and EVOO. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
- Stir in salt and allow to simmer for at least 20 mins, stirring occasionally. I usually let it go for around 30 mins, or at least until I’m finished making the manicotti.
- Turn off heat, and stir in Ricotta. (And a little basil if you have extra.) Set aside.
*You don’t want to use an aluminum pot because it’ll react to the acid in your tomatoes and turn black. Non-stick, copper, stainless steel, and cermanic lined pots work perfectly.
While the sauce is simmering, make the Manicotti:
- In a large bowl, whisk together 12 oz (about 1 1/3 cups) of the ricotta with the provolone, Parmesan, oregano, and red pepper. Add the egg white and whisk to combine.
- If using seitan, remove from the package and rough chop it to break apart into “ground meat” size pieces. (Better too small than too big because it’ll clog the bag when you pipe the filling.) If using Tofurkey sausage, dice into 1/4″ cubes. Sprinkle your choice of “meat” over the cheese mixture, sprinkle with basil, and using a spatula fold in until evenly dispersed. Set aside.
- Cook manicotti shells according to the package, being sure to salt the water well. Remove them from water with a slotted spoon, and lay them out on a sheet pan to cool until they are OK to handle. (I boiled 5 at a time, but that is because as a traveler, I only have one pot that can hold more than a couple of cups of liquid!
(Hint: Bring the water to a boil BEFORE you add the salt. If you add the salt before, it’ll take FOREVER for it boil.)
- In a casserole dish that fits all 10 shells, or small sheetpan/cookie sheet lined with foil, spread on the bottom about 3/4 cup of sauce and set aside. Fill a pastry bag or gallon-size storage bag with the filling. (See pic above)
- Pipe into manicotti shells and lay in the sauce lined pan. Pour remaining sauce over top of shells. Bake in a 350° oven until heated through, the center being 165⁰, about 25-30 mins.