Monday, May 27, 2013

The Right Place, at the Right Time

Earlier this month, my friend, Tim, flew out to Los Angeles from Philadelphia for a couple of days to visit.  We had a great visit.  Lots of fun, lots of driving around, and lots of food.  Strangely enough...I didn't cook for us once.  If his trip had been a day or so longer, I probably would have.  But for now, it will have to wait until his next trip here.  And there will be one!

As I said, there was a lot of food involved.  Nothing fancy, nothing expensive...but fun and good.  In fact, I think there will be a blog post about our adventures in Los Angeles coming up, so I'm not going to say too much here.  For a tease though...I will say that we had an impromptu visit to a little of the San Gabriel Valley...which is how I ended up making Ricotta and Fava Bean Manicotti.

 Finding yourself in the right place at the right time leads to good things...and sometimes good food.  We were driving down Valley Blvd in San Gabriel when I realized that I missed the turn I wanted to take, so I was going to drive a little further and turn around.   It was only a few blocks up when I see to my left Claro's Italian Market.   This required an immediate stop.   I should have a bumper sticker that reads, 'Will brake for Italian markets.'  Because I will...and we did.  Even though I've got an Italian market right down the street from me...another over in Glendale, and unlimited online sources for Italian goodies, I will always stop at a new market.  Always.

I didn't buy too much.  A nice hunk of ricotta salata, taralli (the kind I haven't had in years!), and pasta.  But not any pasta...but penne.  GIANT penne.  Penne disguising itself as manicotti-size shells.  I had to have them.  And so inexpensive.  Just over a pound for a less than $2.00.  And you know how much I love finding a bargain.

I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do with my Giant Penne at first.  It took a day or so before I thought about the Fava Bean Smash I had made the week earlier, my thoughts also going to the ricotta  that was sitting in the fridge...and there you have it.  I figured the smashed beans and ricotta could easily be piped with a pastry bag into those shells.  I had to try.

A note on the sauce:  I made a no-fuss, quick tomato sauce for this.  Essentially sauteing a couple large handfuls of grape tomatoes with some onion and garlic, until the tomatoes pop.  Do what feels right for you.  Whether you use fresh tomatoes or have a can of San Marzano tomatoes in the pantry, keep it fresh and easy.

Fava and Ricotta Manicotti
Makes 6

1/2 cup Fava beans, shelled and blanched
1 cup ricotta cheese
6 Manicotti shells
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 med onion, sliced thin
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon fresh basil, slivered
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup Mozzarella, shredded
salt, to taste

Set a large saucepan of water to boil for the pasta.  Cook the shells a couple of minutes shy of al dente as they'll finish cooking in the oven.  Drain immediately and cover.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic, and saute until the onions begin to turn clear.  Add the tomatoes and saute, letting the tomatoes soften and pop.  I am not opposed to you adding a little wine here.  It won't hurt.  Turn the heat to low and let the tomatoes reduce, stirring occasionally.  Cook until it's to your liking, adding the basil near the end.  

After you've blanched the Fava beans, smash with the back of a fork until they form a paste, adding a few drops of olive oil as needed to hasten the process.   In a separate bowl, add the ricotta, black pepper, a pinch of salt, and lemon zest.  Mix to combine, then add the Fava bean smash and stir to incorporate all the ingredients.

Put the ricotta and Fava mix into a pastry bag outfitted with a large plain tip.  You could also use a large Ziploc bag with the corner cut off.  I found the easiest way to fill the shells is to fill each shell half-way, then flip the shell and fill from the other end.  That way, you're not trying to squeeze the filling all the way to the other end.  In a small casserole dish (about 1 1/2 quart size), spoon a layer of your sauce on the bottom, then layer the filled pasta shells.  Sprinkle a little of the Parmesan and Mozzarella, then more sauce, and the next layer of Manicotti shells, sauce, and cheese.  Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil, then bake for an additional 5 minutes.  Let the dish rest for 5 minutes before serving.  

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