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Seafood-Stuffed Manicotti with Cream Cheese Marinara
-12 ounces small (or chopped), thawed seafood: scallops, tilapia, shrimp, imitation crabmeat, etc.
-2 tablespoons butter/margarine
-salt/cayenne pepper to taste
-lemon juice (optional)
-1 (15-ounce) container ricotta or cottage cheese
-1 cup (8 ounces) cream cheese, DIVIDED
-2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, DIVIDED
-1 teaspoon oregano
-1-1/2 cups prepared marinara sauce, any variety
-12 ounce package manicotti or other stuffable pasta
-cooking oil (1-2 tablespoons or more)
-1 gallon-sized freezer bag or 1 frosting decorator’s bag + scissors
For this recipe, you’ll need about 12 ounces of small (or chopped), thawed seafood. I used a bag of bay scallops I scored for dirt cheap before Lent ended, but you can just as easily make this out of shrimp, tilapia, imitation crabmeat–whatever’s on sale.
Warm a skillet over MEDIUM burner heat. Melt 2 tablespoons butter/margarine (cheap tub margarine is fine!) and toss in thawed (drained!) seafood.
Sprinkle seafood liberally with garlic powder and cayenne pepper. Simmer about 4 minutes,stirring often, until fish is opaque in color. Remove from heat and immediately transfer onto paper towel lined plate to absorb grease. If desired, squeeze lemon juice over the cooked seafood before sticking it in the fridge to chill quickly.
While fish is cooling, empty a 15-ounce carton of ricotta (or cottage!) cheese into a large mixing bowl. Add 4 ounces (about 1/2 cup) cream cheese and 1 cup shredded mozzarella.
Break an egg over the cheese and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon oregano, and 1 teaspoon salt (optional). Stir well.
By this time, the seafood should be cooled off. Add it to the cheese mixture and stir again. Set aside.
At this point, you want to both preheat your oven to 375 degrees AND bring a pot of water (with 1 tablespoon oil) to a rolling boil over HIGH heat.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, mix 1-1/2 cups prepared marinara sauce (any variety) with another 4 ounces cream cheese. Heat over LOW burner heat, stirring occasionally.
Once water is boiling, reduce heat and add 12-ounce package (about 14 pieces) manicotti tube pasta.
Chef’s Note: If you’re shopping at a discount grocery store where manicotti pasta is unavailable, you can always buy regular lasagna noodles, cook them, cut them to half-width, and roll them around the filling mixture to create similar cannelloni-style tubes. Jumbo shells can also be stuffed with the filling mixture for a similar dish.
Because you only want the pasta to cook to almost-al-dente, keep a close eye on the pot and don’t let it boil past seven or eight minutes at the most. Stir often to avoid tubes getting stuck together.
When pasta is ready, immediately drain hot water and replace with cold (faucet) water over the manicotti. Add another teaspoon of oil if necessary to prevent them sticking together.
Spray a 9″ x 13″ pan and give filling mixture a good quick stir. To make filling pre-formed manicotti tubes easy on yourself and avoid breaking/tearing cooked pasta, try this simple trick:
Take a gallon-sized freezer bag or a plastic icing-decorating bag and hold with one tip or point hanging straight down. Fold top edges of bag down around the hand that is holding it, and begin spooning filling mixture into the bag. Use scissors to trim the bottom “point” about 1″ to 1-1/2″ from tip (large enough to allow cheese AND seafood to pass easily through the opening), and twist the top opening of the bag shut over the cheese, creating a tube through which you can squeeze the filling.
Use a paper towel to pat-dry each piece of pasta right before filling it. Squeeze mixture into pasta, and begin placing filled tubes in two rows in sprayed casserole pan.
When all tubes are filled, top pasta with cream cheese marinara sauce and sprinkle with an additional 1 cup mozzarella. Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake approximately 20 minutes, or until cheese topping is melted. Remove pan, uncover, and serve immediately. Refrigerate any leftovers–they reheat beautifully!