When you pull this casserole out of the oven, the first thing you'll see is bubbling cheese, that tempts you even when it is too hot to eat. Then, only seconds later, a hot steam that carries the smell of fresh basil and ripe tomatoes hits you. By the time the dish makes in to the counter, the sizzling begins to slow. With in a few minutes the dish sits still. It begs for you, even now when it would burn your tongue. (Maybe you sneak a bite anyways).
By now the whole house has smelled like home cooked Italian food for 20 minutes or more, and people are beginning poke their heads into the kitchen. Is it ready? Can we eat yet? What are you up to in here?
Cheese. Wine. More cheese in the form of ricotta. That is what you are up to. This recipe is pretty much everything. If your "everything" is ooey, gooey, and delicious, that is. And somehow folded in there is a pile of vegetables too: zucchini for noodles, spinach folded in with the ricotta, and a homemade tomato sauce that will make you proud.
This is a pile of cheesy Italian flavor you'll feel really good about eating. Despite begin literally stuffed with cheese, this recipe is light: it doesn't leave you feeling groggy the way this dish would if it was made with traditional pasta. We serve it with extra marinara sauce (I love homemade marinara sauce) and a side salad, and call it a meal. Oh--and don't forget the glass of wine! Red is perfect for this dish.
If you're worried about the logistics of wrapping a bunch of cheese in thinly sliced zucchini, I don't blame you! But it's even easier than I originally thought it would me, so watch the video below to see how this impressive dish comes together, and you'll see you have nothing to worry about!
Serves: 4 | Total Time:
- 2 medium zucchinis
- 1 egg
- 1-1/2 cup ricotta
- 1 cup grated parmesan, split in half
- 1 8-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed
- Salt & pepper For sauce:
- 1/2 yellow onion
- 1 tablespoon avocado oil
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced - plus more for garnish
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- Salt & pepper
- First, make the marinara sauce: heat avocado oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Dice white onion, and mince garlic. Add both to sauce pan once oil is hot, and sauté until the onion is translucent and the garlic begins to brown. Pour wine into pot, and use a wooden spoon to scrape any brunt pieces from the bottom of the pot. Allow to simmer, then add tomatoes. Stir. Add oregano and basil, and then season with salt & pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
- Spread 1/2 of sauce in the bottom of a 9x9 baking dish.
- Make the ricotta filling next. Place thawed spinach in a fine mesh sieve and squeeze out any excuses water. Place in a mixing bowl, and combine with ricotta, 1/2 cup grated parmesan, egg, and a few sprinkles of salt and freshly cracked pepper. Stir until combined.
- Preheat oven to 400°F and assemble: use a potato peeler or mandolin to slice the zucchini in long, thin strips (watch the video above to see an example). Place two zucchini strips on a flat surface so that they overlap by about 1/2 an inch. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture on the short edge of the zucchini strips, and then roll up the zucchini strips around the ricotta like a roll of sushi. Place in the baking dish. Repeat until you run out of ricotta.
- Sprinkle the remaining parmesan over the manicottis and place in oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until cheese is gooey, and sauce is bubbly. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with fresh basil as garnish. I also serve with extra sauce (the remaining 1/2) because I love marinara sauce!
- Note: I find that when I get to the middle of the zucchini, it becomes hard to slice because of the seeds, so I move on to the second zucchini and reuse the middle of each zucchini later for another meal.