We were watching the food channel the other night; Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, I think. As we tuned in at the end of an episode, we caught a glimpse of a cannelloni with three sauces. Dave, my nephew and I all commented that it looked really good. The three sauces pesto, béchamel and marinara were layered on the cannelloni to represent the Italian flag. So when the daily conversation turned to “what shall we make for dinner” I decided we would give it a whirl. I had homemade pesto and marinara in the freezer and béchamel sauce only takes a couple of minutes. We took a quick survey of the pantry and only needed a few things. I usually use spinach and mushrooms in my filling, but since it is August and there are zucchini piled high in the veggie drawer, I decided that would be the “green” in the filling. I think my nephew went home one day too soon!
For the Manicotti
1 – 1 lb. chub of Italian Chicken Sausage
3/4 cup finely diced onion
4 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
3/4 cup of small dice zucchini
2 Tablespoons freshly chopped Italian parsley
2 Tablespoons freshly chopped basil
salt and pepper
olive oil for sautéing
1/2 cup dry white wine, to deglaze the pan
1 1 lb. container whole milk ricotta
3/4 cup of mozzarella, finely diced
(I like diced over shredded as you get little gooey cheese puddles in the filling!)
1/4 cup grated parmesan
12-16 manicotti tubes, boiled according to package directions
For assembly and serving
2/3 cup of prepared pesto
2 cups prepared marinara sauce
1 cup béchamel sauce
Add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil to a large sauté pan and heat over medium heat. Add the sausage and break up the chunks while cooking. Add in the zuchinni, onion and garlic and continue to cook until the vegetable are soft and the meat is browned. Add the white wine, stir and let simmer about 5 minutes until the liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from stove, pour into a large mixing bowl and let cool.
While the meat and vegetable mixture cools, prepare the manicotti. Boil for about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside until ready to stuff.
In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, eggs, diced mozzarella and parmesan. Add to the cooled meat and vegetable mixture and mix well. Prepare a baking dish by lightly oiling it.
Fill the pasta tubes. I used a very small spoon to stuff them. When we finished Dave said “we should have used a pastry bag”! Of course we should have used a pastry bag….what was I thinking?
Lay the filled tubes into the baking pan. Heat the oven to 350′. Add 3-4 Tablespoons of water to the baking pan and cover tightly with foil. Bake about 20 minutes and remove from oven.
While the pasta is baking, warm the marinara sauce in a small pan on the stove, prepare the béchamel sauce and pesto.
Basic Béchamel Sauce
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup finely diced onion
2 cloves finely minced garlic
1/3 cup Wondra flour
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the vegetables are soft. Whisk in the flour to make a light roux. Slowly add the milk and continue to simmer until thickened. Add the cheese, nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. In a small bowl, mix about two tablespoons of béchamel into the 2/3 cup of pesto.
Remove the pasta from the oven. Layer the sauces on to the pasta in the desired fashion. My choice was three separate “sections”. You certainly could layer marinara, then béchamel and then pesto, one on top of the other. Return the pasta to the oven, uncovered and bake another 10 minutes. Garnish with grated cheese and freshly chopped Italian parsley, and touch up the sauces, if needed.