Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Morel Files: Manicotti with Mushroom Ragu

... if you were wondering what we did with the two pounds of morels 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

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  1. I just love what you did with your morels. This manicotti looks scrumptious. I'm going to have to try this with all the morels I've got. I made a risotto - my latest post - but have so many more left to use.

  2. These honestly look SO DELICIOUS!! I have no idea how I would use up 2 lbs of morels, but you certainly have some excellent ideas. I am jealous!

  3. OMG! I want to come to your house for dinner next time you're making this! WOW does this sound amazingly good. I bet the meat wasn't missed in this dish at all. I've never had morels, but this sounds lip-smaking with any good mushroom.

  4. Those are some crazy looking mushrooms!

  5. Mmmm... these must be the best manicotti ever with morels! Sounds sooo delicious!

  6. Wow -- you won those??? Somehow I must have missed that post -- tre impressive! I'm crying over here... Nice job with the manicotti. It looks rich and delicious.

  7. Wow, I'm impressed. That manicotti looks amazing. Great post and I loved "watching" the recipe progression. I've never made manicotti before, but I might have to seek out some GF noodles and give it a try.

    You know though, the thought of creepy crawlies and that whole "dark side" thing kind of gives me the willies. I never thought of that. Yikes! Thanks for the warning.


  8. You guys are good with the morels...always thinking of something different to do with them. Nice use!

  9. These look wonderful! The filling is just mouth-watering delicious!

  10. Quite an interesting take on the manicotti (and being descended from napoletano grandmothers, I call it "mahnigawt!" Don't forget to say Grandmas were "nahboledan"). Very creative use of the mushrooms and I can tell you had a lot of fun making it despite the lack of a pastry bag.

  11. Rachel - Interestingly enough, I have a pastry bag... but, I am (apparently) attracted to doing things the "hard way"! LOL.

  12. I wish morels were around all year long. Gorgeous dish!

  13. this looks outstanding- BUT what's with the creepie crawlies that live in morels?? okay I'm hopping over to google to find out- too gross!!! hee hee!

  14. I've never had manicotti stuffed with mushrooms before - looks delicious!

  15. I keep coming back to this post. It looks so so so good!

  16. Ahhh Morels...a thing of awesome ingredient...a fab manicotti.

  17. The manicotti looks fantastic, and that's why I come here!

  18. WOW, morels...never seen them...very interesting look :-) The manicotti with the morels looks yummie. Great pictures!

  19. Cool, didn't realize you won. Glad my vote counted! The manicotti looks like some serious action...

  20. Oh, Duckie -- you Don't want to know? (bugs & sometimes little... worms...)

  21. Never had morels before - sounds yummy, but spare me the living things that float out. Ewwww.

    Just one question, though: Were they moral morels?

  22. Heh. Abigail.
    I think the moral of the morel story is: clean them well. At that point your morels will be more moral.


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