It’s nearly spring, and summer herbs like basil are just waiting for the tomatoes. Citrus is in season. I’ve been out in the garden tooling around, and we visited the spring bloom in the Anza Borrego desert last week.
We spontaneously decided, last Friday when my wife was off work, to let the kids skip school and head for the desert. If you live anywhere in California, you have probably heard that this might be the biggest desert bloom in the last 20 years.
It was amazing and flowers were blooming everywhere. The caterpillars are dining well on all these flowers, and they say you may have just a few more days before they’ve munched them all down. But if you’re not hungry for flowers, I do have something tasty for you.
This is a rich and filling dish. You’ll love it because it’s packed with spring flavors.
I recommend using fresh basil, freshly grated lemon zest, and some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. If you can, always buy the block of cheese and grate it yourself as needed. Please don’t buy anything in a green can-though I admit I loved it as a kid. Do buy real Parmesan. And if you have some on hand, the ubiquitous garlic confit comes in handy here.
If you do need a shortcut, you can always buy a jar of good-quality pesto freshly made, which you might be able to find in the refrigerated section. Or if you’re close to an Italian market where the make it fresh, well, lucky you. You can use this instead of the fresh ingredients. Or, if you just want to boost the flavor little more, combine some store-bought pesto with some freshly chopped basil, chopped walnuts, and lemon zest.
You can use manicotti tubes, or get shells, known as conchiglie. I know there are some precooked pastas out there, but I haven’t seen them in my part of the country. In any case, about eight minutes of boiling your shells or tubes and they should be ready to go. Have a sheet pan ready after you drain them and allow to cool before filling.
Enjoy this dish with some freshly grated parmesan on top.
- 12 Manicotti pasta tubes
- 32 ounces ricotta cheese
- 1/4 cup fresh basil finely chopped
- 3/4 cup walnuts finely chopped
- Zest of two lemons
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
- One egg
- Salt and pepper to taste
- For the Sauce
- One can good quality chopped tomatoes
- 2 cloves chopped garlic or garlic confit
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Freshly grated parmesan for serving
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Liberally oil the bottom and sides of an 11" x 13" pyrex dish.
Prepare your pasta tubes or shells following instructions on box. When done, drain well.
Place on half sheet pan to cool, drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat
Meanwhile, prepare your ricotta stuffing by adding basil, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, walnuts, egg and lemon zest, and and mix until all ingredients are fully blended. See notes if using premade pesto.
Use a large Ziploc bag, or pastry bag fill tubes. Cut about a half-inch wide hole in the corner of the Ziploc bag or at the end of your disposable pastry bag.
Fill bag to about half full and fold pastry bag at top and twist to close, or seal ziploc bag removing all air.
Squeezing the bag from the top and holding the pasta in one hand, pipe in your filling. Place each piece in the greased 11 x 13 Pyrex.
large manicotti tubes should fill your Pyrex. Cover with foil.
Bake at 400° for 35 to 40 minutes or until filling his firm.
Meanwhile, prepare tomato sauce.
Heat a large skillet to medium, and add olive oil. Sauté garlic gently for about 30 seconds until just barely browning. If using garlic confit, smush down to break up with a fork, add to hot oil, and add tomato sauce immediately thereafter.
Immediately add one can chopped tomatoes.
Set heat to low, and allow to simmer about 30 minutes.
To serve, place three manicotti tubes on each plate, and spoon several tablespoons of sauce over them.
Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
If using pesto, add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup, depending on how much pesto flavor you want.