Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

My parents’ German neighbors gave to us, as a Christmas gift, a guestbook. It is a way for us to remember those we’ve hosted in these the young years of our marriage.  The last entry is as follows:

1/15/10-Mr. Brad Doyle-fresh pasta manicotti covered in homemade red gravy with steamed spinach.

Such a special guest deserved a special meal. I won’t spend much time on the spinach because as we all know, it’s boring. The fresh manicotti, however, was delightful. Vocabulary lesson. Manicotti is a large, cylinder noodle stuffed with ricotta, mozarella and parmsean cheeses. These cheeses when mixed with a beaten egg make a tempting paste. Canilloni is the same noodle stuffed with meats. Both are covered in sauce, red most typically.

Manicotti is my all time favorite and one of those special meals only made a handful of times per decade. But one of the joys of living on your own, is deciding when to make a special meal. And if there are perks to being poor, one would be that special meals are made more special because you know how much ricotta cheese actually costs.

The recipe my mom gave me at my bridal shower calls for 12 boxed manicotti noodles. When we had to make 100 of these for my high-school graduation, we found that you can make mini-manicotti with won-ton wrappers. Ain’t America-the-melting-pot great? If you use the boxed noddles, you need to first boil the noodles careful not to break any, then let them dry before stuffing. If you’re using fresh noodles or wonton wrappers, you need only stuff.

This dinner date has been scheduled weeks before and in the preceeding days, Ryan and I went back and forth over what to cook: spaghetti, turkey burgers, sandwiches? Finally we decided on manicotti, because in my mind I reasoned it was cheaper than lasagna but classier than spaghetti. Ryan had not yet started his Spring Semester at LSU so he was home all day. He spent the day cleaning up and he was charged to make the dough so that when I got home, I could cut the noodles and go. Returning home from work, late, I walk into our contankerous townhouse to find our countertops buried under piles of wirey, partialy dried strips. Ryan had lost sight of the plan and in his earnest ferver to be the absolute most helpful he could be, made fetichinni for the spaghetti we decided not to cook. While I quickly ran upstairs, Ryan did an instant re-do and made a new ball of dough.

I cut the dough ball into small sections, flattened them through the pasta machine to about a 4, then cut them into rectangles to make the individual noodles. I can’t really say what size the rectangles were other than to say, they were one tile high and one and a half long on my counter. When I move, I’ll have to figure it out all over again.  Once the rectangle was cut, I put a line of filling down the middle and rolled it up fig-cookie style ( I didn’t close in the ends). To help keep the crease closed, I wetted a fork and tamped down on the edges–similar to sealing the edges of a raviolli just being more careful not to poke through. I tried to half my mom’s 12 manicotti recipe, and I ended up with 10. Oops.

About the point I got half way through, Brad arrived.  He and Ryan munched on Christmas Salsa from Sarah and stuffed ‘shrooms I had made the night before (conspicuously left out of this post). Brad felt truely honored to have such tender love and care put into his meal and was happy for Ryan to have such wife-ing in his home.

To cook the manicotti, I put a layer of sauce on the bottom of two 9×13 pans, which in theory keeps  the noodles from baking to the bottom, although I did not have such luck. I lined up the noodles and covered with the rest of the sauce and baked at 350 for about 30 mins. Since there is nothing really “raw” in it, the baking is just a matter of melting the cheese and heating up the sauce. You know it’s done when it’s all bubbly like and delicious looking, but not before.

Making fresh pasta takes longer than cooking the boxed noodles, but they are much easier to stuff. If you’re using boxed noodles, once they are dried you need to stuff the cheese filling. A piping bag may be an easy solution, but we’ve always used a teaspoon and got really messy. Oh and if you’re making canilloni, be sure to cook the meat first and have fun figuring out a way to get it in a noodle.

A Manicotti- One tile x One and a Half tile.
The Finished Pan

We sat around the table for over an hour an a half. I won’t embarass anyone by counting the amount of servings we each had, but needless to say, there wasn’t many left overs. The conversation drifted seamlessly from Catholic topic to Catholic topic, sprinkled by my own interjections. Because we weren’t ready for the evening to end, we went to TCBY for ice-cream passing as yogert, this change in setting also allowed a shift in the conversation to more Kelli-friendly topics. All in all, it was a most enjoyable evening and I look forward to hosting Brad again.

It’s been almost a month since we’ve had anyone over for dinner, but hopefully the next entry will be an Oscar’s Party 😉

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