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Baked Manicotti

The latest issue of Saveur features an article on eating in Atlantic City in the 1980’s. The essay made me nostalgic for the east coast, the 80’s and even for Atlantic City. It is funny how we can feel these close connections to places we have never been. There is this mythology surrounding east coast Italian-American food that affects me even though I grew up in the Midwest. The article inspires images of red vinyl booths, dyed hair, plastic coated menus, muscle cars, perfume, checkered tablecloths, red sauce and high heels. These food mythologies add story to the recipes we cook and connect us to the past; we can be a teenager in New jersey, a grandmother in New Orleans, or a hippie in Berkeley.

The article includes several recipes inspired by Angelo’s, an Atlantic City institution serving classic Italian-American cuisine. The recipe that immediately caught my attention was  for baked manicotti. They were outstanding and went well with some cheesy garlic bread and a green salad with vinaigrette—all that was missing was some Frank Sinatra and cheap red wine.

While we’re on the subject of tomatoes (were we?), I want to make sure everyone has seen the article [1] in this month’s Gourmet on the terrible conditions (slavery) surrounding the harvesting of tomatoes in our country. It is pretty heartbreaking stuff and emphasizes how politicized every one of our food choices has become. Whether we want to be or not— we’re involved. More information on how to get involved in the fight for fair food can be found on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers website [2].

Baked Manicotti (adapted from Saveur [3])

1. Grease a 9″ x 13″ baking pan with 1 tbsp. butter and spread 1⁄2 cup of the marinara sauce across the bottom of the pan. Set aside. Bring a 6-qt. pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the manicotti and cook until just tender, about 8 minutes. Drain manicotti and rinse under cold water; set aside.

2. Heat oven to 450°. Heat remaining butter in a 12″ skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer garlic to a medium bowl along with the ricotta, 1⁄2 cup parmesan, 5 tbsp. chopped parsley, salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne, and eggs and stir to combine.

3. Spoon some of the filling into both openings of each manicotti shell.  Repeat with remaining manicotti shells. Transfer stuffed manicotti to prepared baking dish, making 2 rows. Spread the remaining marinara sauce over the manicotti and sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Bake until hot and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining parsley. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

***A note on filling these: Blah, I hate filling manicotti shells. In the past I have avoided the problem by using those flat no-bake lasagna noodles, cooking them to soften them, and rolling the filling inside. It is easy. I wanted to use the classic manicotti shells for this and found that the easiest way to fill them was by piping the ricotta filling into the pasta using a plastic storage bag with a corner snipped off. I suggest you try one of those methods and save yourself the hassle of spooning the filling in.

Marinara Sauce (adapted from Saveur [4])

1 Put tomatoes and their liquid into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Set aside.

2 Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, bay leaf, and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.

3 Add the chopped tomatoes along with the oregano and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly and its flavors come together, about 20 minutes. Stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper.