Spinach Manicotti

A few weeks ago we were going out of town and I was in charge of bringing a meal for one of the nights.  I knew that I didn't want to bother with grocery shopping during the weekend away, so I decided to make a dish that freezes and  travels well.  Fortunately, this recipe is also a favorite with kids and grownups alike. Here's what you need:

  • 1 lb ground beef,  chicken, or turkey
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 jar spaghetti sauce
  • 1 box (about 1 cup) chopped spinach (if you're using fresh spinach, cook first, then chop)
  • 1 container low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup Romano (or Parmesan) cheese
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 box Manicotti tubes (usually 14 tubes)

First, brown the meat with the onion and the garlic.  I find the easiest way to peel my garlic is to lay the clove flat on the cutting board, cover with a large knife and smack the side of the knife with the heel of my hand.The peel will separate easily at this point.Brown the meat with the onion and add the garlic during the final stages of browning (over-cooked garlic can turn bitter).Drain the meat and allow to cool on a paper towel.  If you have a large puppy around the house, this also means guarding the meat!While the meat is cooling, cook the manicotti according to package directions.  Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.  Meanwhile, prepare the spinach and make sure all of the liquid is drained by straining the spinach against the side of a sieve.  Stir together the drained spinach with cottage cheese, Romano cheese, egg, and basil.Add the meat along with the salt and pepper.Take a 9x13 pan (or, if you're using an aluminum version, it's likely to be 10x12) and pour a thin layer of sauce on the bottom.Next, fill the pasta with the meat mixture.  I use a long iced-tea spoon for the job.Don't worry if the tubes rip (happens to me all of the time).  Just put the seam down on the pan and no one will ever know the difference!!Continue with this method until all of the tubes are filled.  I always seem to have a little extra filling, so I put the leftovers along the sides of the tubes.Cover the tubes with the remaining sauce. I pour the sauce down the middle of the tubes and then spread the sauce out evenly from there.Cover the pan with foil.  At this point you can decide whether to bake the dish (325 degrees for 40 minutes) or freeze it for later.  If you freeze, add an additional 30 minutes to the cooking time or bake until hot and bubbly.

Serve with salad and garlic bread!!  Enjoy!!