"Atlantic City has two really great Italian-American restaurants, but I haven't tried them. My Italian sister in law makes the BEST homemade manicotti... too bad my brother divorced her! Here in New Jersey, we say MAN-EE-GAUT. It's slang native to NJ."I know I can't pull off a New Jersey accent, I still haven’t even acquired a Texas accent, but I had high hopes for making manicotti. I took a look at Angelo’s menu on their web site, and the cheese manicotti is served with your choice of meatball or sausage. In the magazine, it was shown as is with no meat which was fine with me. First off, I made the sauce which was lighter than I expected. Minced garlic, a bay leaf, and finely chopped onions were sauteed in a large saucepan. Whole, canned tomatoes were coarsely chopped in a food processor and then added to the saucepan. Dried oregano joined the mix, and I used fresh thyme because I didn’t have any dried. This was cooked over medium heat for 20 minutes until slightly thickened, and then fresh parsley was added.
To prepare the manicotti, you could boil them for about half the recommended cooking time, but I chose to follow a Barefoot Contessa tip. For making lasagna or stuffed shells, I do as Ina taught me and soak the pasta in a bowl filled with hot tap water for 15 to 20 minutes. The pasta becomes pliable enough to fill and is prevented from being overcooked in the end. The manicotti filling was started by cooking eight cloves of minced garlic, yes eight, in butter. That’s a good start. The garlic was added to ricotta, grated parmesan, chopped parsley, freshly grated nutmeg, and eggs. This was combined and spooned into the manicotti tubes. Next time I make this, I may actually put the filling in a piping bag and squeeze it into the manicotti because the spooning method was messy to say the least. I always think transferring something into a bag is going to take forever so I avoid it, but this time it was probably the way to go. Eventually, all the filling was messily spooned into the pasta, and it was ready to be baked. A little sauce went into a baking dish, the filled manicotti were set on that, the remaining sauce was poured on top, it was sprinkled with more parmesan, and it baked for 20 minutes.
Bubbly goodness emerged from the oven. Since the sauce was just chopped tomatoes with no tomato paste to thicken it, it was light and fresh-tasting. The cheese filling was as good as any cheese filling could be. I will be cooking garlic in butter and adding it to all future cheese fillings for pasta. Delicious. Just for fun, I drizzled a little chile oil leftover from the pizza I made on some of the manicotti. I couldn’t resist using the chile oil and of course appreciated the elevated spice level. Food fads come and go but classic Italian-American food is always well-loved, and now I have one more filled pasta recipe in my collection.