Monday, May 7, 2012

Makeover Monday: Reduced Fat Sausage Manicotti

I think I have mentioned before that my experience with cooking Italian food doesn't extend much further than boiling spaghetti noodles and opening a jar of spaghetti sauce.  I do at least brown my own hamburger!   Since I grew up in a German family in a town without an Italian restaurant, I didn't have much exposure to Italian cuisine until I went off to college.  Now Italian is one of my favorite foods!  I specifically remember the excitement of manicotti night at the dorm dining center.  Who wouldn't love pasta stuffed with cheese and covered with marinara sauce?  

Fortunately, it wasn't served too often.  There's no fighting off the dreaded freshman 15 when you are stuffing your face with pasta, sausage, and four kinds of cheese!  Sadly, my manicotti days ended with my dorm days.  It wasn't until a few weeks ago that I attempted to recreate this college favorite at home.  And it really only happened because I had some ricotta cheese, sausage, and spaghetti sauce to get rid of.  I could have made lasagna, but I decided to try something new.  Once I had decided to take a shot at sausage manicotti, I hopped on the internet and quickly found several versions.  As I like to do, I basically took what I liked from the various recipes I found and made it my own.  And in typical Foodie RD fashion, I had to make it lower in fat!  After all, my metabolism isn't 18 anymore!

The ricotta cheese I already had on hand was reduced fat.  Using reduced fat cheese is simple enough.  But after I had already started making my manicotti I realized that I didn't have as much ricotta cheese as I needed.  But I did have some fat free cottage cheese.  I know that my mom puts cottage cheese in her lasagna, so I figured it would be a good substitute for the ricotta cheese in my manicotti.  So I actually ended up using a fat free product instead of just reduced fat.  Bonus!  I also used turkey sausage, which I have always found to be just as tasty as the real thing, but with way less fat and calories.

And if you're wondering if a reduced fat version of the real thing can still make your taste buds sing, let me say with confidence that the answer is yes!  This version of sausage manicotti was cheesy, creamy, nicely seasoned, and delicious.  I would say it was just as good as the manicotti I remember from days gone by, or maybe even better!  I was overjoyed that I could now enjoy the taste I loved without all the calories!

And while this was a little more involved than whipping up some spaghetti, the version I made is easier than you might think.  I did still use jarred spaghetti sauce, but added some extra tomatoes.  Making the cheese filling just involves stirring together your cheeses, some eggs, and a few spices. 

Stuffing the manicotti shells with the cheese filling was a little tedious, but I sped up the process by stuffing my shells uncooked.  I have never tried to stuff cooked shells, but I imagine it would be a slippery, messy hassle.  To stuff the shells, I put the cheese filling in a sandwich bag and cut off the corner, then squeezed it into the shells.  I imagine using a pastry bag would work well, too.

When you have your shells stuffed, just layer sauce, shells, sausage, and then more sauce in two baking pans.  Since the shells need to cook in the oven, you want to make sure they are completely covered in sauce so they can absorb the liquid.
Then just cover and bake!  Oh yeah, and cover with more cheese!
Yum, yum, yum!  I vow to never go seven years without sausage manicotti again.  In a perfect world, I wouldn't go seven days without this stuff.  The world may not be perfect, but thanks to reduced fat sausage manicotti, yours could be a lot better!

Reduced Fat Sausage Manicotti
3/4 lb turkey sausage
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (26 ounce) jar marinara sauce
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup fat free cottage cheese
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 teaspoon pepper
14 manicotti shells
1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
In a large skillet, cook sausage over medium heat until no longer pink; drain and set aside. In the same skillet, bring tomatoes and marinara sauce to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, ricotta, Parmesan cheese, parsley, Italian seasoning, salt, garlic powder and pepper.
Divide 2 cups of sauce between two greased 13-in. x 9-in. x 2-in. baking dishes. Stuff uncooked manicotti shells with cheese mixture. Place in prepared pans. Sprinkle with sausage and top with remaining sauce.
Cover and bake at 375 degrees F for 50 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Bake 10 minutes longer or until cheese is melted and manicotti is tender. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. 

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