Saturday, March 24, 2012

Chicken and Spinach Manicotti (and my Saturday Food Finds)

It's Saturday and today was an absolutely gorgeous, sunny day here.  Hubby and I ran a bunch of errands.  While we were out, I found some absolutely huge, gorgeous fresh strawberries on my excursion to Costco.  I absolutely love their produce...not only is it priced good, but it is really beautiful too.  I also picked up a couple bags of "Cuties" (California mandarin oranges)...I love them!  Costco also had some beautiful colorful bell peppers that I bought.  I have always wanted to try Kerrygold "Dubliner" cheese.  I've read some great reviews about it, so today I decided to pick some up to try.  I snapped a few pics of some of today's food finds and will share them with you below.

Look at the beautiful strawberries I found today
Check out the "Cuties"
I've always wanted to try this I finally picked some up!
Also picked up this beautiful bag of colorful peppers

Tonight, I decided to make my Chicken and Spinach Manicotti for dinner....I love it.  The only thing I'm not real crazy about is actually filling the manicotti because it can be a bit tricky (messy).  For those of you that have never made it before, manicotti are large fluted pasta "tubes"...sort of like pasta pipes.  The best way to fill them is with a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip, but I couldn't find instead, I put the filling in a large gallon size Ziploc bag and cut the corner off which made sort of a make-shift pastry bag.  Unfortunately, I cut too big of a corner off my bag so it was a bit messy.  Everything else about this recipe is easy.

If you want the same results and taste and less frustration assembling it, I suggest you either use a pastry bag with a large plain tip which works great to fill the manicotti, or you could substitute jumbo pasta shells for the manicotti noodles and just fill them with a spoon.  Also, don't worry if you accidentally tear or split your manicotti noodles while you are filling them...just place that side down in your casserole dish and nobody will every know!  It all gets covered with sauce and cheese.  One suggestion is to not overcook your manicotti noodles...if anything, I cook mine a minute less,  Instead of 7 minutes, I cook them for 6 and then immediately drain and rinse with cold water and lay them out in a single layer on wax paper to cool and keep them from sticking to each other.

This manicotti recipe makes a mild, delicate filling made with shredded chicken breast, chopped spinach, ricotta cheese, half-n-half, bread crumbs and herbs and spices, all mixed together and then stuffed into the manicotti.  The filled manicotti are then covered with marinara sauce mixed with half-n-half and then sprinkled with mozzarella cheese and popped into the oven to bake for about 30-35 minutes.  I ran mine under the broiler for a few minutes at the end of cooking to give the cheese topping a little golden color.  I like to sprinkle some fresh chopped Italian parsley on top when it comes out of the even.  Below are a few pictures as well as the recipe.

The basic ingredients
Manicotti...the "stars" of the show
All stuffed and waiting to be covered in sauce
All covered in sauce, now waiting for cheese
Sprinkled with mozzarella cheese, ready to be popped in the oven
Fresh out of the oven
Here, take a closer can almost smell it, can't you

Chicken and Spinach Manicotti

1 8-oz package (14 count) manicotti shells, cooked and drained
1-1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
1 15-oz container ricotta cheese
1 10-oz package frozen chopped spinach, cooked (squeezed well of liquid)
1-1/4 cups half-n-half (divided into 1/2 cup and 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups (16 oz) marinara sauce
8-oz shredded mozzarella cheese

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease or spray a 13x9 inch baking dish.

2.  In a large bowl, combine chicken, ricotta cheese, spinach, 1/2 cup half-n-half, bread crumbs, garlic powder, oregano, basil, salt and pepper; mix well.

3.  Stuff chicken-spinach mixture into the cooked manicotti; place in a 13x9 inch baking dish.

4.  Combine marinara sauce with remaining 3/4 cup half-n-half and pour over the manicotti.  Top with mozzarella cheese.

5.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until heated.  If desired, place under broiler for a couple of minutes until bubbly and lightly browned.  Let sit for about 10 minutes before serving.  Optional: sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley. 

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