I love Italian food and make it frequently for dinner. One of Hubby's favorites is my Spinach and Pancetta Manicotti. It's a big crowd-pleaser and super easy to make! I made up this recipe one day, as an improv-cook-as-I-go thing and was pleasantly surprised that it was super delicious!
First, coat the bottom of a pan with 3 tbsp of olive oil. Add in a diced large onion, along with 1 tbsp of garlic salt and 1/2 tbsp of Italian seasoning. Cook on high for about 2 minutes. Then add in the pancetta.
I usually use this brand of pancetta from Whole Foods. It's really good in quality, has a great flavor, and no preservatives. It comes in 6 oz packets, which are perfect for the recipe.
The pancetta will come in thin slices, cut them so that you get tiny, thin squares. They will be about the size of diced onions.
Cook the onion and pancetta for about 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the pieces start to slightly brown. Put into a large mixing bowl, set aside to cool.
Thaw out 20 oz (2 boxes) of frozen spinach and drain all the excess water. This is a super important step. To make sure all the water is drained out, I roll the spinach up in a compact ball and squeeze it really hard between the palm of my hands.
Add two eggs and 1 container of ricotta cheese (15 oz).
Mix the ingredients together until it's really well combined. It helps for stuffing the manicotti later if you refrigerate this mixture for about an hour after this step (but it's not necessary).
I find that the Barilla brand of pasta is the best. You'll need one box of pasta (8 oz or 14 shells).
Add 2 tbsp of olive oil and 1 tsp of salt to the pasta water. Boil water and cook the manicotti for 6-7 minutes. Drain pasta and run under cold water until the pasta is cool to the touch.
Set up an "assembly station," with the pasta drained and cooled in a bowl, a jar of prego, a 13x9 baking pan, and your bowl of filling.
Your first time stuffing the manicotti can be tricky. You might want to have a second box of pasta on hand. My first time doing it, I broke about half the box! But once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy. Cup the pasta in one hand, and push small amounts of filling in with the other. The filling will have just the right thickness and consitency so that you can pick it up with your fingers.
When stuffing, make sure to apply gentle, even pressure. When the filling starts falling out of other end, that's when you know you've stuffed it with the correct amount. It's easier to stuff it half way through, turn it around, and stuff the other half (as opposed to stuffing it the entire length from one end). If you stuffed your manicotti to with the correct amount of fullness, you should have no filling left.
Ta-Da! Place the stuffed manicotti in your baking pan, in rows, until the entire pan is filled. It should be able to hold all 14 manicotti.
After you fill the pan with manicotti, pour the rest of the prego over the top and spread evenly. Top with 2 cups of cheese. Sprinkle 1/2 tbsp of Italian seasoning over the cheese.
I like to use this great Italian cheese blend. It has mozzerlla, cheddar, asiago, and provolone. But any kind of cheese that you like will do.
Bake in the 375 degree oven for 25 minutes.
Here's the full recipe:
1 large onion, diced
6 oz pancetta, cut into small pieces
20 oz of frozen chopped spinach, drained (2 boxes)
15 oz of ricotta (one container)
8 oz of manicotti pasta (one box)
1 regular sized jar of prego
5 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp of salt
1 tbsp of garlic salt
1 tbsp of italian seasoning
2 cups of italian cheese blend (see picture below)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Coat the bottom of a pan with 3 tbsp of olive oil. Dice the onion and sauté on high for about 2 minutes. Add 1 tbsp of garlic salt and 1/2 tbsp of Italian seasoning. Slice the pancetta into small square pieces and add to sauté pan. Cook for about 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the pieces start to slightly brown. Put into a large mixing bowl, set aside to cool.
3. Thaw out the frozen spinach and drain all the excess water. Add the spinach drained spinach, eggs, and ricotta to the mixing bowl of onions and pancetta. Stir until the ingredients are well mixed.
4. Add 2 tbsp of olive oil and 1 tsp of salt to the pasta water. Boil water and cook the manicotti for 6-7 minutes. Drain pasta and run under cold water until the pasta is cool to the touch.
5. Coat the bottom of a 13x9 baking pan with a thin layer of Prego. Stuff the manicotti and place in the baking pan in rows. Once the baking pan is filled, pour the rest of the prego sauce on top. Layer with cheese. Sprinkle 1/2 tbsp of Italian seasoning on top of the cheese.
6. Bake in the 375 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until the cheese is completely melted and slightly browning on top.