There is just something about a really creamy baked pasta dish that hits all the right notes with me. Nostalgia, comfort, hearty, flavor…it just seems to really resonate with who I am in the kitchen. My wife and I love pasta. This manicotti recipe is absolutely one of our favorites. We grab some of our favorite foods, mushrooms, spinach, and chicken, and cook them each seperately, and then marry them together in a creamy ricotta mixture that just pleases the taste buds. This hearty robust Italian dish is made with fresh ingredients, packs in the flavor, but should be accessible to any cook at any level. 

 

Chicken Spinach and Mushroom Manicotti

Serves 4-6           Prep Time: 20 Minutes                  Cook Time 30 Minutes

 

Ingredients for the Filling:

 

1 Chicken Breast, baked

32oz Fresh Spinach

16 oz Fresh Sliced Mushrooms

4 Cloves Minced Garlic

15 oz Ricotta

Salt/Pepper to taste

3 Tbsp Olive Oil

1 Cup Parmesan Cheese Grated

1 Box Dry Manicotti pasta

1 Cup Mozzarella Shredded

 

For the Marinara:

1 Carrot minced

1 Small Onion minced

3 Cloves Garlic minced

28oz Tomato Sauce

28oz Tomato Puree

1 Tbsp Dry Italian Herbs

4-5 Basil Leaves Chiffonade

¼ Cup Fresh Parsley Chopped

Salt/Pepper

Red Pepper Flakes



                Preheat the oven to 350. In a small baking dish, season both sides of the chicken breast with salt and pepper and top with 1 tbsp. olive oil. Place in the oven and cook for 20 minutes. My great grandmother (on the Italian side) used left over proteins a lot in her pasta dishes, so if you have left over chicken from last night’s dinner that will work perfectly fine too. No need to cook new chicken if you have some on hand.

                Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil and cook the mushrooms with a little salt and pepper until they brown and let off most of their water. 5 minutes or so usually does the trick. Transfer the mushrooms to the food processor. In the same skillet heat another tbsp. of olive oil up and sauté the spinach and the garlic with salt and pepper, until all of the water from the spinach has cooked off. If you don’t cook off the water than it will lead to runny manicottis. Transfer the spinach to the food processor as well.

                Add in the ricotta and the parmesan cheese as well as the chicken breast. Process on low until smooth. Taste and see if more salt and pepper is needed. Set aside and allow a few minutes to cool.

                The marinara sauce requires me to be honest. I make a good marinara sauce. But…I don’t always have time or the desire to make scratch made marinara. If you have a jar of marinara sauce you like and it’s working for you…use that. If you are on the fence and don’t really have one you like, try mine. But please, either mine or jar or anyone else’s sauce…make it your own! Add the spice or that extra vegetable that will really make yours better.

                If you are making my sauce, heat a Tbsp. of olive oil in a sauce pot and sauté the onion and carrot for 5-7 minutes. Until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the tomato sauce and puree and heat until a gentle boil. Add the Italian spices, basil, parsley, salt and pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. Reduce heat and simmer. The longer you let the sauce simmer the more those flavors will really meld and typically it will yield a better tasting marinara. If saving time is important, grab your favorite jar of sauce…it’s just easier.

                In a baking dish spoon a little marinara into the bottom of the empty dish. Take the filling from the food processor and pour it into a pastry piping bag. If you don’t have a piping bag, pour it into a zip lock bag. Cut the tip off one corner of the bag so that you can squeeze the filling effectively into the pasta. Slowly squeeze the filling into each manicotti and place the manicottis into the baking dish so that they are almost touching, but not quite. Once all the manicottis are filled and in a baking dish, cover the top with marinara sauce.

                Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cover the top with mozzarella. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes until the mozzarella is golden brown and melted. Garnish with a little fresh basil Chiffonade.