Let me get you a knife and fork...
Lasagna version as my readers suggested...
Sunday dinner's to me is exactly that!!
Whether it is football season, deck parties, a picnic, mid Autumn bonfires or a get together in front of the fireplace... I want my family and friends around me and I want to FEED THEM!!! I know, I'm weird that way, but that's how I "roll"!!
My friends and family know this, and truth be told, they love it!! They know they can come over any time of day or night and I will be donning my apron on / or not ;-) and feeding them!! This, my friends is a true passion of mine, nothing gives me greater joy!! "Shhhhhh, this is between you and me now".
This dish is one of our ultimate favorites. I have not served it to anyone that has not absolutely loved it, raved about it, even better yet, wanted more!!
It could be Sunday dinner, it could be friends coming over and serving this in small portions with amazing rosemary buttermilk biscuits while their watching the game, (you so know I've served it this way right)? Or just a simple Friday or Saturday night get together with a, "hey, why don't you come over and we'll rent a movie" night. No matter what occasion you serve this dish, you will have accolades out the door and requests for "more please". If that doesn't warm your heart, I don't know what will...
This dish is bursting with flavor and is so non-traditional! These manicotti are chock full of roasted sweet garlic & eggplant, sauteed mushrooms, Italian Sausage, fresh herbs & cheese. Then, we top these luscious gems with a velvety bechamel sauce... it's definitely LOVE AT FIRST BITE!!
This dish is not complicated at all, just a few steps and I will walk you thru them I promise. Ready for the standing lines at your door!!
Here we go:
1 medium eggplant
5 cloves garlic - divided
5-7 tbsp olive oil - divided *see notes*
1/4 cup fresh parsley (reserve 1 tbsp for garnish)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary (1/2 tbsp dried)
1/2 cup fresh celery leaves (or) 1/4 cup diced celery *see link below*
2 cups fresh mushrooms sliced
1lb bulk Italian Sausage
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese - divided
2-1/2 tbsp butter
pinch of salt & freshly grated pepper
4 tbsp flour
4-1/2 cups milk
4 tbsp butter
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
pinch of salt
1 sprig fresh rosemary (1/2 tsp dried) *topping*
Preheat oven to 400F. Wash and dry your eggplant. Score eggplant vertically, not all the way through, just score it leaving about an inch gap. To the gap add 3 cloves of garlic, drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil, pinch of salt & pepper.
Cover with a small sheet of foil and bake till eggplant is very soft and outer skin has sagged. About 35-45 minutes. You can certainly do this beforehand, even the day before for ease of preparation.
As eggplant is baking, in a large saucepan, add enough water with a few pinches of salt and cook your manicotti. Eight (8) minutes is the perfect al dente, so we are going to stop them at 6 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water immediately to stop the cooking process. Gently separate each manicotti so they don't fold over and stick onto themselves, it makes it very difficult to separate without tearing later. Set aside.
Once pasta is cooked and set aside, check on your eggplant, check with a fork to see how tender they are. They should be almost half way through.
Let's start on our mushrooms. In a large saute pan melt your 1-1/2 tbsp of butter and 1 tbsp olive oil. When hot add your mushrooms. Continue to saute till they have reduced nicely in size add a pinch of salt, voila, the mushrooms will now release their liquid. Add your chopped celery leaves (or celery) and the remaining 1 tbsp of butter. The magic of the extra fat will now render these beautifully!! Take off heat, place directly in your food processor, set aside.
What are celery leaves? HERE They are absolutely delicious! These are from my step dad's garden. I washed and washed, dried, chopped and placed in baggies in the freezer. These are absolutely out of this world in frittata scrambles of any kind, stews, soups... anywhere you want the slight taste of celery!! Not only are they delicious, they are a great source of Calcium and Vitamin E.
Using the same saute pan place your sausage and crumble it into small pieces. Fry sausage till no longer pink. Place in medium size bowl.
The eggplant should be done now. Take out of oven and using a large spoon, scoop out the inside "only" of the eggplant along with the roasted garlic. Place directly in the food processor where it's partner in crime "aka the mushrooms" are awaiting their arrival!!
Add your parsley, your rosemary and your 2 fresh garlic cloves that you have crushed, along with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Process till nicely combined.
*Notes: Depending on the eggplant, some eggplants retain more moisture than others. When mixing, you will see if it needs a smidgen more olive oil. At other times it does not, again depending on the eggplant, when making this recipe and taking the pictures, I indeed needed 2 tbsp more of olive oil. You want the mixture moist, not overly moist, but not dry...
Using your favorite lasagna pan, spray with baking spray, set aside. Let's start filling our manicotti shall we?? Using a small spoon (I like to use an ice cream spoon, it's long and fits just right), fill one end of the manicotti, turn over fill the other end. Place in baking pan and continue filling till all the manicotti are filled, set aside. Or you can make it into a lasagna as readers have suggested and I also made.
Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare your Bechamel sauce.
BECHAMEL SAUCE, recipe and video - HERE
Pour Bechamel sauce over your Manicotti and add your sprig of rosemary and a few cranks of pepper.
Bake uncovered for 45-55 minutes. Halfway through baking, pull out of the oven and sprinkle on the reserved 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Why are we adding the cheese halfway through the baking process you ask? Ah!! Well if we add the Parmesan cheese to the dish, as it is uncovered, the cheese will burn. We don't want that, we want crispy, gooey goodness!!
Continue baking till golden and your house is just emitting wonderful aromas of the Mediterranean!!
The hardest part, as always. We have to wait about 10-15 minutes before we cut... I know trust me, I feel the same way!
Till next time!!
Dishin with Didi