we won from Marx Foods (and you might be, because we've been neglectful in our blogging on that topic), I'm pleased to tell you that we savored every last bit of them.
There was a pizza topped with morels and manchego, a steak with a side of sauteed morels, and lovely homemade pasta with morel cream sauce. And then, there was the manicotti.
I should begin by telling you that Peef has fond memories of manicotti. It was the meal he requested for his birthday every year during his childhood. It was the meal that allowed me to feed him tofu for the first time (tofu ricotta is really fantastic, for those of you who've never tried it). And it's been an occasional staple at our house for years. Now, we love classic Italian dishes as much as anyone. But, we also love giving beloved recipes a bit of a spin. Needless to say, we'd never made manicotti like this. Until now.
It all started, of course, with a nice pile of those morel mushrooms. LOVE those 'shrooms. Nutty and slightly smokey, I'm convinced that a morel makes everything better. But, that doesn't mean that there's not a dark side to these friendly fungi. There's ALWAYS a dark side.
Despite my love affair with morels, I do get a bit grossed out by the creatures that live within them. So, I'm in the camp of people who like to soak the morels in a bit of salted water before slicing and dicing them. You still have to see the little beasties that float out of the mushrooms, but it's easy enough to just pour them off the top of the water and get on with your life. Oh, yes, and -- as Peef is kind enough to remind me -- there's a lot less screaming that takes place when I don't come across creepy crawlies while slicing my mushrooms.
We also picked up a package of dried shiitakes -- which we reconstituted in hot water while the morels were soaking. And we reserved that precious mushroom "stock".
We chopped the shiitakes nicely, and added them to a bowl of fresh ricotta cheese.
In a large saute pan, we sauteed about 1/2 pound of morels along with another 1/2 pound of creminis, a Vidalia onion, some garlic, and a tablespoon or two of freshly chopped rosemary. We added the mushroom "stock" and reduced it by about half. When the mushroom stock was reduced, we added a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes and allowed the sauce to simmer for 15-20 more minutes.In the meantime, we cooked up our pasta and got to work on the filling. To the ricotta mixture containing the shiitake mushrooms, we added a generous handful of Parmesan, Romano, and some Asiago cheese.
Once the pasta was ready, and the filling was thoroughly mixed, we poured a bit of the mushroom ragu into the bottom of a large ceramic baking dish and got to work filling the manicotti.
An easy way to fill manicotti shells is to "pipe" the cheese mixture into the pasta shells. To do this, put mixture into a heavy-duty plastic food storage bag. Seal it and cut off a 1-2 inch opening in one corner of the bag. Then gently squeeze the bag to fill the pasta with the cheese mixture.
Of course, I opted for a more challenging route... and filled the manicotti shells with a small spoon.
I managed to do a rather decent job, but I'd still recommend the plastic bag approach -- which WILL take years off of your life.
Lay the filled manicotti onto mushroom sauce in the pan... and keep on going until all of the manicotti are filled.
Then cover everything with the remaining mushroom sauce...
... and a generous sprinkling of cheese (more of that Parmesan, Romano, Asiago mixture does just wonderfully).
Cover the manicotti pan with aluminum foil and bake at 350ºF for about 30 minutes. At that point, remove the foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes (until the cheese is lightly browned).
We adored this "mushroom lover's" manicotti. The filling was creamy and cheesy and the shiitakes added some depth and tied it in nicely with the mushrom ragu. The ragu was nutty and earthy. The subtle pine-like flavor of the rosemary balanced the sweetness of the tomato sauce and brought out the best in the savory flavor of the mushrooms. And then there was the cheese... ah, the cheese!
The mushroom ragu was fantastic for the manicotti, but it would also be great served with a bit of roasted lamb or baked cod. It would make a great sauce served over a simple bowl pasta -- or baked into a cheesy pan of ziti.
If you're interested in the stats, check out the recipe.
Mushroom Ragu with Morels
©BURP! Where Food Happens