I used to serve a pasta dish similar to stuffed manicotti at a restaurant I worked at years ago. Ours was a cannelloni, a fresh pasta sheet wrapped around a filling, seared in butter until browned, and baked in homemade tomato sauce. The result is the same, a tubular-shaped pasta filled with whatever your heart desires, served hot in bubbly goodness. Manicotti is essentially the American version of cannelloni, and you can easily find the shells at your local grocery store.
I've subbed the traditional tomato sauce with a classic white sauce called béchamel in this recipe. The creamy, earthy, and porcini-laced cream sauce makes this dish all the more decadent. It's the perfect stick-to-your-bones winter meal combined with the venison and cheesy filling. Plus, it stores well and heats up in a pinch when you need dinner on the table fast.
Feel free to sub your favorite tomato sauce for the béchamel. Follow the same cooking directions below, but make sure to cover the manicotti with tin foil while baking. Remove the tinfoil at the end and broil the top to brown the cheese.
- 8 oz. box manicotti shells (12-14 pieces)
- 1 lb. ground venison
- 1 cup onion, small diced
- 4 cups baby spinach
- 3 tbsp. garlic, minced
- ½ cup fresh herb mix, 2 tbsp. reserved
- 3 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 8 oz. bag shredded mozzarella or provolone cheese
- 1 tbsp. Worcestershire
- One large egg
- 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp. coarse salt
- 2 tsp. cracked black pepper
- 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flake
- 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 4 tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 pint heavy cream
- 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp. porcini mushroom powder
- 1 tsp. coarse salt
- 1 tsp. cracked black pepper
- ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
Also works with
- Brown the meat in two tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, and finish with Worcestershire. Remove the meat, add the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic until the edges caramelize, then add the spinach. Cover and cook until the spinach is fully wilted. Cool the spinach mixture in the refrigerator.
- Boil the pasta until al dente in lightly salted water. Immediately cool the shells with cold water, strain and set aside.
- Mix the filling by first straining any excess juices from the cooked spinach mixture then chopping it. Combine the spinach mix with the ground venison, ricotta, parmesan, egg, fresh herbs, and season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flake.
- To fill the manicotti add a cup of filling to a piping bag or quart-size Ziploc with one of the bottom corners trimmed. Squeeze the filling into the manicotti shells, alternating sides to fill them evenly. Repeat the process until all of the shells are filled.
- Now make the béchamel. Add the butter and garlic to a pot on medium heat. Once melted and the garlic is slightly golden, whisk in the flour to make a roux. Continue stirring the roux until it becomes golden brown. Slowly whisk in the whole milk and then the heavy cream. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and porcini powder. Bring the béchamel to a simmer and cook, occasionally stirring for 2 to 3 minutes or until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Add a thin layer of béchamel to the bottom of the baking dish and add a sprinkle of cheese. Place the manicotti evenly spaced in the baking dish. Pour the remaining bechamel over the top and add the rest of the shredded cheese. Bake the manicotti for 30 minutes or until the cheese begins to brown and the internal temperature reaches 160°F. Switch the oven to broil and brown the top for 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with fresh herbs, grated parmesan, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and cracked black pepper.