Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year with Cottage Cheese and Vegetable Manicotti

Happy New Year and hope all of us have a year generously seasoned with health, wealth and happiness.
We spent New Year's eve at home. The next day began with a stream of calls and exchange of 'Happy New Years' and my daughter  learned the word 'happy'!

I don't know how I came across the terms Manicotti or Crespelle......definitely not a regular byword round here. I don't ever recall seeing it on any restaurant menu and I just saw the movie Inception recently.....hmmmm! Not too comforting, this line of thought.... Anyways what I read  seemed simple enough and so I decided to try my hand at making a Manicotti.

Manicotti is an Italian lasagna-style pasta made with crespelle or Italian crepes (crespella - singular). The crepes are stuffed with fillings of choice, rolled or folded into triangular shapes and baked. The Marinara or Bechamel (white) sauce is usually served in this recipe, but I replaced the suggested sauce  with one I usually serve with my pasta. Most crespelle recipes I found contained eggs and I resorted to searching for vegetarian options and I finally found one here. I made some changes to the recipe and will list them as well. The list may appear very long and therefore laborious, but it isn't.

Serves 4 
Components: Stuffing, Sauce and Crespelle

Paneer/ Cottage cheese - 100 gms (half a packet; shredded)
Spinach - 1 cup (cleaned, cooked, squeezed and chopped)
Carrot - 1 medium sized (shredded and cooked)
Cauliflower - 1 small (small florets, cooked)
Salt and pepper - to taste

Toss all the stuffing ingredients in a large bowl, season to taste; cover and refrigerate.

(My version adapted from Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen)

Onion - 2 large (chopped)
Tomato - 3 large (blanched, peeled and pureed)
Capsicum/ Green bell peppers - 2 large (cleaned and cut into large pieces)
Garlic - 1-2 cloves
Oil - 1 tbsp
Milk - 1/4 cup*
Cornstarch/ Cornflour - 1 tbsp* (dissolve in milk)
Salt -  to taste
Italian herbs (mixed) - 1tbsp

(*For a richer version use shredded processed or Parmesan or cottage cheese instead of the milk and cornstarch, about 3/4 to 1 cup)

Heat oil in a wok/ kadai and add the garlic. When the garlic just starts turning colour, add the other vegetables, toss till coated with oil, cover and cook on medium flame till vegetables are tender. Allow to cool and puree in a blender. Transfer back to the wok/ kadai and stir in the milk-cornstarch mixture, add salt and spices till it bubbles merrily. Take off heat and keep ready. The sauce had a mustard-ish colour from the bell peppers. Also, a green chilli or two wouldn't be amiss if you wish to spice things up a bit.

Crespelle/ Crepes:
(Recipe by Bryanna Clark Grogan from here.)

Powdered egg replacer - 1 tbsp  (Ener-G and Orgran are the preferred brands) [I didn't use this, because I didn't have it and am not really sure you get it here.] 
Water - 1/4 cup plus 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon [Used all the water at once, Bryanna's recipe calls for blending the egg replacer with water]
White flour or wholewheat pastry flour - 1 cup [Used White flour]
Non-diary milk - 1/2 cup [Used milk]
Chickpea flour or soy flour - 1/4 cup [Used tapioca flour]
Nutritional yeast flakes - 2 tbsp [Didn't use it]
Sugar - 2 tsp
Baking powder - 1/2 tsp
Salt - 1/2 tsp
White pepper and freshly ground nutmeg - a pinch each

Put all ingredients in the blender and mix till you get a batter of heavy cream consistency, adding milk in teaspoons till this is achieved. Heat a non-stick skillet/ tava and pour about 3-4 table spoons of batter and gently spread it to about 5" to 6". Wait for the surface to appear dry and flip to cook the other side. Do this till all the batter is used up. I got about 12 crespelle. It was recommended that the crespelle be stacked with wax paper separators to keep them from sticking. I let the crepes cool before I stacked them and didn't have any issues with them sticking to each other. Keep them covered after stacking, lest they become too dry.

Assembling the Manicotti:

Preheat over to 200 C.

Spoon a bit of the sauce on to the baking dish till it just covers the bottom. Add a tablespoon (more or less) of the stuffing in a crepe and roll it up. Place it in the baking dish. Repeat the process with all the crepes. Ideally, the dish should accommodate the stuffed crepes in a single layer or use multiple baking dishes. Since I didn't have the former and wasn't inclined to do the latter, I ended up with two layers, with generous amounts of sauce in the dish. I topped it with a light sprinkling of shredded cheese and popped it into the oven. Give it about 15 to 20 minutes, till the sauce appears to bubble and the cheese browns a bit. (I went by the bubbling sauce, since I didn't use much cheese).

Get it out of the oven and serve with more sauce.
This was a very light dinner and can be substantiated with a salad and some starters. It tasted very good. The crespelle did absorb some flavour from the sauce without getting soggy.  

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