Pesto manicotti

Start to finish: 1 hour (30 minutes active).

8-ounce package manicotti pasta
10-ounce bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup fat-free Greek-style yogurt (try without this; we found the filling to be too soft)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil  (2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning instead of the oregano & basil)
Two 7-ounce packages prepared pesto
cup grated Parmesan cheese
some red-pepper flakes  might be in order

Heat the oven to 400. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (or multiple smaller dishes) with cooking spray.

Bring a large stockpot of salted water to a boil. Add the manicotti, and cook according to package directions. Drain, and arrange them on a kitchen towel so they don't touch. Set aside. (try filling shells without pre-cooking, or only cooking them for half the time on the package directions- if you do, allow for longer cooking time covered)

Meanwhile, place the spinach at the center of a kitchen towel, wrap the towel around it and squeeze tightly over the sink to remove excess water. Continue squeezing until no more water runs out. Unwrap the spinach, and coarsely chop.

In a large bowl, combine the spinach, eggs, ricotta, mozzarella, yogurt, garlic powder, oregano and basil. Transfer the cheese mixture to a zip-close plastic bag, squeeze out the air and seal. Set aside.

Spread 1 package of the pesto in an even layer over the bottom of the prepared baking dish.

Snip off one corner of the bag of cheese mixture. Holding a manicotti tube in one hand and the bag in the other, insert the tip of the bag into the pasta tube and squeeze gently to fill it. You may need to fill from both ends of the tube.

As each tube is filled, arrange tubes in a single layer in the prepared baking dish. When all the tubes are filled, spoon the remaining package of pesto over them. Cover with foil, and bake for 15 minutes.

Uncover the pan, and sprinkle the manicotti with Parmesan. Bake, uncovered, for another 15 minutes, or until the Parmesan is melted and lightly browned.

Serves 6.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 791 calories (438 calories from fat), 49 grams fat (18 grams saturated; 0 grams trans fats), 160 milligrams cholesterol, 45 grams carbohydrate, 45 grams protein, 4 grams fiber, 1,122 milligrams sodium.

Courier Journal 1April09