Manicotti alla Romana

Sunday is my favorite day of the week.

Sunday is sleeping in until 9 am, without an event or errands to worry about. Sunday is lounging in yoga pants drinking coffee at the dining room table, reading recipes and making my lists for the week. Sunday is saying “sure, why not” when hubby suggests a Redbox movie or a spontaneous trip to Lowe’s. Sunday is the day before trash day, giving us the perfect motivation to clean up the house and start the week off right. Sunday is grocery day, which I actually do enjoy.

And, best of all: Sunday is cook-the-most-superb-meal-of-the-week…day.

By this, I mean that Sunday is the only day in which I can spend hours in the kitchen, whether that means chopping up veggies, marinating meat, frosting three dozen cookies, or in this case, filling manicotti shells with a spinach and sausage mixture.

I feel like a broken record here, but this is my first time with manicotti (lots of “firsts” lately, it seems!) Making manicotti isn’t hard by any means, but its definitely messy! I’m coming to the conclusion that the messier the prep work, the more delicious the meal. With both a cream sauce and a red sauce over these loaded manicotti shells, its hard to believe you’re at home and not at a fancy italian restaurant.

One last thing – in the picture below, you’ll notice pretty little parmesan biscuits from Tastefully Simple. I totally recommend these for parties, snacks, or alongside a meal!

Manicotti alla Romana – adapted from Manicotti alla Romana from allrecipes.com

1 lb sweet italian sausage (remove from casings if buying links)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 bag fresh baby spinach
1 box manicotti shells (should include 10-14 shells)
2 C ricotta cheese
2 eggs
3 C basic red spaghetti sauce
2 TBS butter
2 TBS flour
1 chicken bouillon cube
2 C fat-free half and half
several fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 C grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, dried parsley

1. Brown sausage in large skillet. Use a slotted spoon to set sausage aside in large bowl, leaving fat in pan. Cook onion in pan for 4-5 minutes until tender. Add spinach and cook several minutes, stirring often until spinach is wilted. Add garlic. Cook another 45 seconds and add mixture to sausage.

2. Meanwhile, heat water to boiling and cook manicotti for only half of the time directed on the box. This is probably not more than several minutes.

3. When sausage mixture is no longer hot (warm is fine,) add ricotta cheese and eggs. Sprinkle in some salt and pepper as well. Stir well.

4. In large casserole dish, spread one cup of red sauce in the bottom. This is where it gets messy: carefully fill each cooked manicotti shell with the spinach mixture. One suggestion is to use a plastic bag with the corner cut off, and “pipe” the mixture into the shell like a pastry bag. I didn’t have good luck with this and used my fingers instead. The shells are slippery so work slowly and carefully. Lay all stuffed manicotti shells in casserole dish. At this point, you can cover the dish and refrigerate for several hours if you’d like.

5. Preheat oven to 350. Melt butter in large skillet and add flour and bouillon cube. Let roux bubble for 2 minutes over med-high heat. Add half and half slowly, stirring constantly to reduce clumps. Increase heat to high and let boil for several minutes until sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper and dried parsley.

6. Ladle white sauce over manicotti shells. Sprinkle the fresh basil over the white sauce. Now, ladle the remaining 2 C red sauce over the manicotti. Try to layer the sauces without mixing.

7. Cover and bake 35 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with parmesan, and bake uncovered another 10 minutes. Let stand several minutes before serving.

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