I’m a firm believer that even if you’re not big on cooking, that you should have at least 3 to 5 recipes in your ‘arsenal’ that you can make at the drop of a hat. You should know these recipes by heart and they should be forgiving when you don’t have everything on hand…and a crowd pleaser (this is not the time to start introducing things like quinoa, vegan cheese or hot curry powder). These are recipes that can A) serve a small crowd that may or may not include children and B) can be made in advance, so you all you have to do when everyone arrives, is pop that bad boy in the oven and wait for the aroma of something home cooked to fill the air. This is one of mine…
First let me tell you what this isn’t! It’s not fussy, and it’s not fancy…but when you serve it, it feels a little of both. It’s so tasty and comforting at the same time…this is most definitely one that you’ll reach for come fall! <Do yourself a favor, open your planner to some date in late Oct, and write down, “Make Cyn’s Manicotti” – you’ll be happy you did!!> I digress…back to the task at hand ;o) So why am I giving you this recipe now…you know, in the dead of summer? Because it really isn’t a “heavy” meal, it’s just a comforting one – I’ve tweaked it quite a bit since I started making it a few years ago, and this one really hits the spot. It’s packed FULL of healthy, protein with chicken breasts, roasted red peppers, fresh basil….trust me on this, it will be love at first bite! For some reason, the men in my family seem to LOVE this one! I hope you love it too! Xoxo
First things first – let’s get those ingredients ready!!! I break this one into two steps…the sauce and the actual dish….
Light Alfredo, reduced fat Italian blend shredded cheese, roasted red peppers (NOT packed in oil) and fresh basil
Remember when I showed you how to chiffonade basil? Do that again here!
I like to bake my chicken breasts, but you could totally use cooked rotisserie chicken (discard the skin). I basically cut each boneless, skinless breast in half, season with salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, a splash of red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil – give it all a good “massage” and let it hang out while my oven preheats to 400, then I spray the aluminum lined pan with baking spray, spritz the tops of the chicken and bake for 20 minutes (I do it on my convection setting, so add 5 mins if conventional oven). Then remove from the oven and let it cool while you get the noodles going (dice the chicken really well once cooled enough to handle). Boil the noodles about a minute shy of the package instructions for ‘baked manicotti’. Then drain into a colander, drizzle with a touch of extra virgin olive oil (to keep from sticking),toss well and set aside….meanwhile…..
Next, combine the chicken with the remaining ingredients (EXCEPT the pasta), and stir well. The best way I’ve found to do this is to throw on a pair of cooking gloves or clean bare hands, and just go to town! Mix it really well, until it looks like this:
You want to make sure that you have (about) the same amount of filling into each shell. I always set 2 shells aside for any picky eaters that might just want plain noodles, so this next step should fill about 12 (depending on the brand you use). Place the noodles on a clean tea towel, and cut each one down the middle so it looks butterflyish ;o) Then, add some filling to each shell so that you have about the same amount in each one. Then close them back up, so the sides touch at the seam (this bit is messy, so I use gloves and just give them a good roll in my hand, pinch at the seams and go to the next one…assembly line works best for this!
Once they are all rolled, add enough sauce the bottom of the SAME POT YOU USED TO COOK THE PASTA – did I mention this is kind of a one pot meal WOOP WOOP – and add the filled pasta seam side DOWN. Then pour the remaining sauce over top, and use the back of a spoon to fill in the nooks.
Chicken and Roasted Red Pepper Manicotti
12 uncooked Manicotti shells
4 C (approx) finely diced cooked chicken breasts (really chop the chicken finely)
¾ container Reduced-Fat Chive and Onion Cream Cheese (make sure you get the kind with onions and chive). The regular cream cheese really does leave this missing something. You won’t believe how much flavor the onion cream cheese gives this!
1/3 C seasoned Bread Crumbs (don’t use panko)
2/3 C Reduced-Fat 4 Cheese Italian Blend
½ tsp Garlic POWDER (NOT garlic salt)
¼ tsp black Pepper
***Preheat the oven to 350
Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
1 – 12oz jar Roasted Red Bell Pepper, drained (NOT the kind packed in oil)
2/3 C Reduced-Fat 4 Cheese Italian Blend
1 C Lite Alfredo Sauce (I really like the Classico lite Alfredo for this)
7-10 fresh Basil Leaves, chiffonade
* For the sauce – Process all ingredients (EXCEPT the basil) in a blender, until smooth, then pour into a bowl and stir in the fresh basil. Spray the bottom of the pan/pot with non-stick cooking spray, then ladle some of the sauce into the pan – enough to coat the bottom, and set the rest aside.
– Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, MINUS 1 minute, then drain, and add a touch of olive oil to keep from sticking.
– Stir together the chicken, cream cheese, shredded cheese blend, bread crumbs, garlic powder and pepper – use your hands to really blend it all together.
– Cut each noodle lengthwise, and add some of the filling to each noodle, pressing the sides together to close the seam. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just make sure the sides are touching, and add them to the prepared pan, seam side down.
– Pour the remaining sauce over the shells, using the back of a spoon to cover completely, and bake COVERED for 20 minutes, then UN-cover, and back for another 5 minutes. Enjoy!!!
*** I love mine with a touch of char to it, so I like to switch it to BROIL, when I uncover it, but that is totally optional! If you do, check it after about 3 minutes, but it usually takes between 3-5 to get it to where I love it! Every oven is different, so keep an eye on it!