Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Unnameable Pasta Dish

Somewhere between the enchilada and the manicotti lies last night's dinner: the noodle roll. A debate raged as we ate and continues this very day over what exactly to call these little beauties. I think they're no longer manicotti when they're not in manicotti pasta (the whole point of referring to them as "manicotti" in the first place, duh). David feels quite differently, and he will tell you so, at length.

The point is, those brilliant folks at Cook's Illustrated understood our collective pain at par-boiling, stuffing, splitting, and ultimately wrecking manicotti tubes, and came up with a genius solution. They softened no-boil lasagna noodles in hot water, dried them on kitchen towels for just a minute, then rolled them up with a prepared filling the way you would a jelly roll cake with, well, jelly.

What follows is an adapted-in-strategy but original creation with freshly rolled sheets of pasta (some leftover from spinach-shrimp, some super herby dough thrown together at the last minute, using our basic egg pasta recipe but swapping half the flour for spelt and adding about 2 tbsp of finely chopped parsley and thyme). If the pasta isn't dried, then there's no need to soften it, so we just plopped in some filling, rolled them up, drowned them in tomato sauce, and scarfed down our unnameable dinner.

Noodle Logs (a.k.a. Manicotti, I guess)

8 sheets freshly rolled pasta or 8 no-boil lasagna noodles
1/4 - 1/3 lb ground turkey
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup ricotta or cottage cheese
1 egg
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
1 Jar prepared tomato sauce
-OR- about 2 cups homemade sauce
-OR- 1-14.5 oz can diced tomatoes in puree/juice
1/4 cup grated parmesan
  1. If you are using fresh noodles, follow the tricks in the links above to shrimp-spinach and basic egg pasta. If you are using no-boil noodles, put a teakettle on the stove. When it boils, pour it into the pan you'll be using to bake the pasta. Slide the noodles in one by one, moving them around with the tip of a sharp knife to make sure they don't stick together. You want them soft, but not cooked, about 5 minutes. Remove to a clean kitchen towel.
  2. Meanwhile, brown the turkey in a small pan with some oil. When turkey is just about done, throw in the garlic and allow to cook 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool just a bit.
  3. In a large bowl, combine cheeses, egg, and spices. Stir in meat. Pour some tomato sauce into the bottom of your small baking pan, just enough to coat the bottom.

  4. Now, put about 1/4 cup of the filling onto the bottom 3/4 of each noodle. Starting from the bottom, roll all the way up and place seam-side down in the pan. Repeat until filling and noodles are gone. Cover with lots and lots of tomato sauce--even add some water to your prepared sauce if you need to. Especially if you are using the no-boil noodles, which will soak up a lot of the moisture during baking.
  5. Cover with foil and bake at 375ยบ for 25 minutes. Remove foil and sprinkle with parmesan. Return to heat 5 minutes, or until bubbly and melted. Yum.

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