Why did Manicotti go out of style? It seems so out of fashion and yet I love the baked tubes touched with fresh spinach and lots of lemon zest.
March 1, 2021
I used to be obsessed with only grating the outer layer of lemon zest to get the floral notes and oils, leaving the bitter pith behind. Now I love the pith. Grate the zest and grate even deeper. One large lemon could yield 3-4 tablespoons zest and pith and we want those flavors in here.
In a medium pot, bring about 4 quarts water to a rolling boil. Add the salt and bring the water back to a boil. Taste the water. It should be salty like seawater. Add the lasagna sheets and stir with a large slotted spoon to ensure the pasta does not stick as it cooks. Cook until still quite firm, 3-4 minutes only. Drain. Toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.
Wilt the spinach:
In a large sauté, pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil begins to smoke lightly, add the spinach, season generously with salt and stir only to wilt, 1 minute. Quickly remove from the heat and transfer to a kitchen towel to drain and cool.
Make the sauce:
In the medium pot over medium heat, bring the cream and garlic to a gentle simmer, 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in 2 cups of the Pecorino, Worcestershire and Tabasco and shut off the heat. Taste for seasoning. Set aside.
Prepare the ricotta filling:
In a large bowl, spread the ricotta out on the bottom and up the sides of the bowl so the seasoning coats most of the cheese. Season with salt and sprinkle ½ cup Pecorino over it in an even layer. Use a small strainer to “sift” the allspice in a small, even layer on the cheese. Mix to blend, adding the egg, lemon zest/pith and tarragon in the mix. Coarsely chop about ¾ of the spinach and stir into the mix as well.
Roll the manicotti:
Arrange the lasagna sheets on a clean, flat surface with the longer sides of the rectangles facing your body. Place about 3 tablespoons ricotta on the edge of the sheet closest to you, leaving a little room on either end. Gently roll the pasta up into a “tube” and place in side the baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat with all of the pasta and filling, taking care that the manicotti are snug in the baking dish.
Bake and serve:
Cover with about half of the sauce. Place the dish in the center of the oven and bake until lightly browned and hot in the center when pierced with the tip of a knife, 12-15 minutes. Warm the remaining sauce. Spoon the sauce over the top and top with the remaining Pecorino and spinach. Drizzle with the lemon juice.