This fantastically delicious manicotti came about because we were having friends over. Friends who eat meat. With a vengance. So I definitely didn't want to feed them something that was 'obviously' tofu for fear that they might politely proclaim that they forgot to feed the dog and had to go home or something like that.
I also didn't have a lot of time because I was watching my baby nephew all day. So clearly I wouldn't be home to prep anything. I also knew that I had precisely 1 1/2 hours to get from the 'country' where they live to town, go to the store, get home, make dinner and then make the house look like I had been cleaning all day. (i.e. hit the toilets and pick up the clutter) That's how I roll.
So I needed something that would 'cook itself', meaning it'd have to be a baked something and if you know me even slightly you know I don't do the casserole thing. Like ever. I must admit though, it intrigues me and I love the idea that your meal doesn't require supervision. Kind of like a crock pot.
And then I remembered back in my single young gal, apartment dwelling days I used to make manicotti for my guests. It was like my staple 'I got this' recipe. Nowadays, of course, I wouldn't use ricotta so I had to do a little thinking.
What is like ricotta but isn't ricotta but could be ricotta with a little primping? Tofu! Oh tofu, I love you. So versatile and fantastical, however did you get a bad wrap?
And so this recipe was born and I'm telling you what, our guests had no idea it was tofu... until I told them. Yeah. Thank you very much. Now, get the ingredients for this and make it; you won't be disappointed. Off you go.
Yield: about 16 manicotti (a big tray or two little trays)
For the tomato sauce: (it's my standard)
1/2 red onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, diced fine or smashed
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1 teaspoon salt, give or take
1 can chopped tomatoes (you can use fresh tomatoes that have been blanched also)
1 small can tomato paste
1 small can tomato sauce
For the 'ricotta' cheese:
2 containers firm tofu, crumbled
1/2 cup raw pecan pieces
2-3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt, give or take
2 Tablespoons oregano
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 cloves garlic, chopped or smashed
1 box manicotti pasta shells
1 bag frozen spinach, thawed and pressed of all excess water
Daiya 'mozzarella' cheese
In a cast iron pot, get your sauce going by sauteing onion over medium/high heat for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another 3-5 minutes.
Add oregano, thyme, salt and pepper along with your chopped tomatoes, tomato paste and tomato sauce. Stir well, turn heat down to med/low, cover and let cook.
Fill a large pot with water and salt and boil for your pasta. It's nice to use a lid, to help the boiling process.
Meanwhile, prepare your 'ricotta' by combining all 'ricotta' ingredients (tofu, pecan pieces, apple cider vinegar, salt, oregano, pepper and garlic) in a food processor. Blend/pulse until everything is combined and smooth.
Give your 'ricotta' a taste and add salt/pepper as needed then transfer mixture into a large bowl and add spinach. Using a large spoon, or your hands, combine spinach and 'ricotta' together.
Get a large gallon ziploc bag and scoop all your 'ricotta' into the bag. Seal mostly... meaning leave part unsealed for air. Using scissors, clip one corner of the bag off, creating a hole in which you will pipe the 'ricotta' into your manicotti shells.
When water is ready, boil manicotti shells until al dente.
While manicotti is boiling, preheat the oven to 375 and prepare your baking pan(s) by covering the bottom with a bit of your tomato sauce. At this point you can turn the heat off on your sauce.
When shells are done, strain and commence filling. Take one at a time, insert bag of 'ricotta' and gently fill. If your 'ricotta' doesn't push all the way through to the other side of the shell, you can also fill that side separately.
Repeat for all shells, placing them in your pan(s) as you go. When all shells are filled, lightly sprinkle daiya cheese on top then cover with the remainder of your tomato sauce.
Give it all another light sprinkling of daiya cheese, cover with tin foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes then remove tin foil and bake for another 8-10 minutes.
Serve with a lovely garlicky green salad and crusty garlic bread and you have a meal fit for anyone... even those carnivores.