It looks as if our sunny spell has ended and the spring clouds have rolled in off the Pacific. We’re in for a little rain and cooler temperatures the next day or two and it feels like a perfect pasta week.
Pasta recipes are always a big hit with the Bennett crew, especially when I prepare my chicken Italian sausage ragu. I love a hearty sausage ragu, but to keep things on the lighter side for spring and summer weather, I love the flavors and texture of Italian sausage made with chicken. One of our local companies, Isernio’s, makes the loveliest chicken Italian sausage, not to mention an array of additional fabulous traditional and contemporary sausages.
Whether you decide to use a traditional Italian sausage or a chicken sausage, this ragu is rich and delicious and beautifully envelops the stuffed manicotti. This ragu is easily prepared in advance and will keep in the frig for up to three days. If you’d like to make sauce for future weeknight dinners, just freeze the sauce for up to three months.
For a freezer meal ready to be popped into the oven, prepare the stuffed manicotti with ragu according to directions, however, do not bake. Double wrap with saran wrap and then wrap in foil and freeze for up to two weeks. To bake, just set it out to thaw and bake at 350F for about 20-30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Serve with a delicious caesar salad or salad of spring greens with an Italian vinaigrette. The manicotti is also delicious served with the roasted garlic broccoli in this blog, found under “sides”. Bon Appetito!
For the Manicotti
2 cups whole milk ricotta
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano (or ½ teaspoon dried)
1 medium – large clove garlic, finely chopped
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup fresh grated parmesan or Romano
Pinch of fresh grated nutmeg
1 cup sliced whole mozzarella
8-10 Manicotti Shells
Ragu recipe below (or for a quick manicotti use your favorite jarred sauce)
Prepare Manicotti according to package directions with a good dose of olive oil so the pasta won’t stick together.
Blend together the ricotta, herbs, garlic, parmesan cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Then whisk in the egg. Reserve the mozzarella.
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Layer the bottom of a baking dish with a little of the ragu. I like to tear open the manicotti and make it a flat piece of pasta, lay it in the baking dish and then stuff with a few tablespoons of the cheese mixture. Now roll it up and make sure it’s seam side down. Almost like filling enchiladas. You can stuff your manicotti the traditional method as well; I’m just usually in a hurry to get the manicotti assembled and in the oven.
Once all the manicottis are filled and laying seam side down in the baking dish, ladle ragu over the top of each manicotti.
Place slices of fresh mozzarella over the top of each manicotti. Sprinkle with additional parmesan or Romano. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes, or until the filling is hot and bubbly. Let the manicotti cool for about 5 minutes before serving.
Garnish with fresh chopped Italian parsley and serve.
Chicken Italian Sausage Ragu
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 rib celery, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 large onion, diced
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1lb Chicken Italian Sausage (I use Isernio’s)
1 cup dry red wine
2 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce (I like Muir Glen Fire Roasted)
1 tablespoon tomato paste (freeze leftovers in 1 tablespoon increments in a baggie)
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large stock pot or Dutch oven heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the celery, carrots and onions. Cook the veggies down, about 5 minutes and then add the garlic. Cook a few minutes more.
Turn the heat to medium high and add the Chicken Italian Sausage to the veggies and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the sausage is cooked through. Next, add the red wine and let it reduce by half. Turn the heat down to medium and stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, and bay leaves.
Once the sauce comes to a boil, turn down the heat to low and simmer while you prepare the manicotti. The longer this sauce simmers the richer the flavor. (This sauce can be prepared the day before and refrigerated. You can also prepare this sauce and freeze for up to 3 months)
Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.