Yeoldfurt has been under the weather since Saturday and has mostly had just chicken noodle soup for supper these past few days. He's finally on the mend and ready for some real food again, so I asked him this morning if he'd like me to make manicotti. He loves manicotti so I got an enthusiastic thumbs up at the suggestion. After all, it's comprised of his three all time favorite food groups ...meat, cheese and pasta!
When I got home this afternoon, I started digging through the kitchen. Other than angel hair, spaghetti, flat noodles and elbow macaroni, we don't stock a twelve-month supply of pastas. I could have sworn I bought a box of manicotti pasta last week but it was nowhere to be found. All I had were four manicotti shells. What to do??
While I was digging for the missing box of manicotti, I came across a few extra lasagna noodles in a ziploc bag. Then I had an idea. Manicotti (the way I make it) and lasagna are SO similar ...why not combine them into one dish? And that's how Manisagna came to be ....
I put a layer of meat sauce in the bottom of a 7 x 12 rectangular baking dish. At one end, I put my four little manicotti shells stuffed with the soft cheese, parmesan and egg mixture. At the other end, I layered lasagna noodles over the sauce, followed by the soft cheese/egg mixture, followed by shredded mozzarella. It took three layers on the lasagna side to make it the same height as the manicotti side. Then I poured the remaining sauce evenly over the top and covered the whole thing with a final layer of shredded mozzarella. It's been in the oven at 350 degrees for about ten minutes now and it's already smelling good. I'll make a tossed salad and in another hour or so, we'll sit down to a nice supper.
While we're on the subject of baked pasta dishes, I never boil my pasta before assembling the dish. I used to and I remember what a headache it was to get the pasta cooked perfectly, then get it cool enough to handle but still hot enough not to stick together. Not easy.
I don't remember how I discovered this, but somewhere along the way I started assembling lasagna with uncooked pasta. It was SO much easier to spread the soft cheese/egg mixture evenly on the dry lasagna noodles. Literally every aspect of the assembly process was easier. The first time I did it, I assembled the layers to make lasagna, then covered it and left it in the refrigerator over night. I thought the pasta would absorb some of the juices overnight and soften up. Then I set it on the counter for 30 minutes the next day to come to room temperature, then baked it at 350 degrees for 50 minutes, as normal. It was wonderful. Later on, I discovered leaving it overnight in the refrigerator was not a necessary step. So now I just assemble and put it in the oven and it always comes out fine.
These days you can buy 'oven ready' lasagna noodles in the grocery stores. They are shaped slightly different and have shallow ridges (like Ruffles) running the long way on the noodles and they are about twice the price of 'normal' lasagna noodles. But the ingredients lists are exactly the same. What a rip-off, huh?
So if you're still boiling the noodles when you make lasagna, please try this method next time you make lasagna. You may be skeptical the first time, but you'll be a believer after you try it. And if you think spreading soft cheese/egg mixture is easier on unboiled lasagna noodles, just wait until you see how much easier it is to stuff the manicotti when it's not pre-boiled.