Stuffed manicotti has to be one of my favorites from the Italian cuisine. A fantastic meaty pasta dish, its richness making it an instant comfort food. The filling for manicotti is an incredible combination of flavors - hearty soft pork and beef mixture, subtle creamy ricotta, salty and little bit nutty flavor of Parmesan and a unique taste of prosciutto. To me this all sounds like an epitome of Italian cuisine! The filling is also extremely multipurpose as you can stuff manicotti, cannelloni, ravioli, pasta shells with it and even use it in lasagne.
The sauce used in this dish, Bechamel (Besciamella), is actually a creation of French cuisine, but is quite popular in Italian cooking. Although it might appear simple at first glance, it plays an important role in bringing the dish together. When added to the sauce, white pepper and nutmeg enhance the taste and give the dish that authentic Italian flavor.
Try it next time you are cooking a small intimate dinner or hosting friends, this dish would be a conversation starter!
8 manicotti shells
2 tsp cooking oil
1/4 cup onion, minced
1/2 cup ground pork
1/2 cup ground beef
1/4 cup (approx. 1 slice) prosciutto, cubed
1 lb ricotta cheese
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup plain flour
3 cups milk
Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top
Making the filling:
Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes stirring occasionally. Add more oil if needed and stir in ground pork and ground beef. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a colander to drain.
Combine the cooled mixture with prosciutto, ricotta cheese and Parmesan cheese. Season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg and mix well.
Prepare according to package instructions, as some types of pasta need to be boiled beforehand, while other get stuffed uncooked.
Making the sauce:
Place the butter in a cooking pot and melt it over low heat. Add flour and whisk until well blended. Heat the milk in a microwave or on a stove until almost boiling. Gradually add the milk to butter and flour whisking constantly. Keep the pot on a lowest heat setting and whisk constantly for 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the stove and season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg.
Preheat the oven to 400°F/ 200°C.
Spread 1 cup of white sauce over the bottom of the baking dish. Fill each manicotti with the prepared mixture and place them in the dish. Handle the pasta tubes carefully not to break them. Spread the rest of the sauce over manicotti and sprinkle them with the desired amount of Parmesan cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Then take the cover off and bake for additional 10 minutes to brown the top.
Makes 8 manicotti or twice as many cannelloni or pasta shells.