Monday, October 09, 2006

Guilt Free Baked Pasta

Reduced-Fat Manicotti
(and you'd never know it!)

It is "Flavors of Italy" week at my local IGA, so all my favorite Italian foods are on Sale!! And you know how I love a Sale!

I picked up some broccoli rabe, fresh Italian parsely, a red onion, garlic, proscuitto and ricotta. I really didn't have any particular recipe in mind while I was shopping, but as I stood in line at the register to pay, I thought about what I was going to make. The first thing that came to my mind was a baked pasta dish. But I didn't want anything too filling or fattening... So what kind?

When I got home, I went online and searched for a recipe with the above specified ingredients and came up with a couple for canneloni. I knew I didn't have canneloni (even in my overcrowded 'pasta' pantry closet). But I did have manicotti. This would do.

My inspiration came from a recipe on Epicurious for Spinach and Cheese Canelloni. I didn't use the sauce from that recipe though, I made a bechamel sauce adapted from Giada DI Laurentiis. Although I'm sure she would not approve, because I substituted fat-free half and half for the whole milk and used some smart balance spread in place of some of the butter.
This what I came up with.

Broccoli Rabe and Cheese Manicotti
Adapted from Gourmet -March 2003 "Spinach and Cheese Canelloni"
Makes 10 Manicotti

Low-Fat Bechamel Sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon smart balance spread
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups fat-free half and half (warmed up in the microwave)
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper

For manicotti
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 of a large red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
One large bunch of broccoli rabe, washed, trimmed, blanched and chopped
Half of a 15 oz container part-skim ricotta (I used Supreme, which is my favorite)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
3 slices of prosciutto (sliced a little thicker than usual), chopped
black pepper
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano (I used Parmigiano)
10 manicotti pasta

Special equipment: a 13- by 9- by 2-inch ceramic baking dish or other shallow 3-qt flameproof baking dish (not glass). *I used glass. Just cover all of the exposed top edges with foil before placing under the broiler.

Make bechamel sauce:
In a medium pot, melt the butter and spread over medium heat. When completely melted, add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent any lumps from forming. Continue to simmer and whisk over medium heat until the sauce is thick, smooth and creamy, about 10 minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of wooden spoon. Remove from heat and add the nutmeg and chayenne pepper. Stir until well combined and check for seasoning. Set aside.

Make manicotti:
Place oil, onion and garlic in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over low heat, allowing onion and garlic to heat up slowly in the oil, then sauté, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add broccoli rabe and sauté, stirring, until just wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely. (At this point I put the broccoli rabe mixture in the food processor to ensure a smooth texture when mixed with the cheese. You could skip this step if the texture doesn't bother you.)

Stir together ricotta, egg, parsley, prosciutto, salt, pepper, and 1/3 cup cheese in a bowl, then stir in broccoli rabe mixture.

Boil pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water, stirring to separate, until just tender, about 6 minutes. Drain and gently transfer to kitchen towels (not terry cloth).

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Spread 2/3 cup sauce in greased baking dish. Gently stuff ricotta filling into each manicotti dividing evenly for all 10. If some tear, just fill them and overlap the seams on the bottom. Transfer, seam side down, to baking dish. Arrange snugly in 1 layer. Spread 1/2 cup more sauce over manicotti and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake, covered with foil, in middle of oven until sauce is bubbling, about 20 minutes.

Turn on broiler.

Remove foil and broil cannelloni about 5 inches from heat until lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Reheat remaining sauce and serve on the side. Sprinkle with fresh Italian parsely.

• Manicottii can be assembled (but not baked) 1 day ahead and chilled, covered with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before baking. Remaining sauce will need to be thinned slightly.

This recipe did take some time in the kitchen, but I made it a day ahead so that it would be easy to heat and serve. I really enjoyed the flavors in this dish. Everything mingled nicely together. Also, the white sauce was a nice change from the usual marinara and it wasn't too heavy because it was low-fat.

Have you ever used fat-free half and half in any your recipes?


wheresmymind said...

I've used fat free half and half for some soups...not too bad!

The Cookbook Junkie said...

Yes, and actually I bought some to replace cream in a couple of recipes this week. It's not cream, but I try to leave cream out of my everyday cooking if I can help it.

Annie said...

wwm, Soup sounds like a good idea!

Paula, So far it has worked out pretty good in mostly every recipe I've tried. I try not to use cream in my everyday cooking either! I reserve the real stuff for special occasions.

Anonymous said...

The manicotti were delicious.thank you Annie.Bambola