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Baked Manicotti with Spinach, Ricotta, Tomato Beef Sauce

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Convection-steam mode

A combination of heat and humidity is the perfect environment for baking casseroles. Not only does the steam prevent food from drying out it also ensures the ingredients are evenly heated and cooked through.

Covering a casserole while baking ensures steam will build up under the cover helping to cook and evenly heat all the ingredients preventing them from drying out. Once the cover is removed the cheese or other topping can be added and the heat slightly increased to achieve a perfect finish.

Convection-steam oven Baked Manicotti with Spinach, Ricotta, Tomato Beef Sauce.

In a steam oven, casseroles can be baked uncovered in the combination convection steam mode at a moderate temperature. The mode can be changed to convection with no steam and the temperature increased slightly for the final phase of cooking in order to achieve the exact same result.

This recipe has quite a few components so it’s important to plan out the various preparation steps. Because the manicotti tubes are only partially cooked this recipe needs a good amount of sauce that is not too thick. If using a prepared sauce it’s best to add a cup of stock to achieve the right consistency.


Prepare the Sauce

Sauté the onion over moderate heat until translucent.  Stir in the garlic, mixed Italian seasoning and red chili flakes. Add the tomato paste and wine and cook for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes and stock, bring to a simmer and cook on medium low heat for 25 - 30 minutes.  When cooled, puree and set aside.

Prepare the Filling

Sauté the onion over moderate heat until translucent, add the ground beef and brown all over. Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted and season the mixture to taste, set aside to cool. Meanwhile combine the ricotta cheese, grated Parmesan and fresh herbs and combine with the cooled meat mixture.

Prepare the Bechamel

Melt the butter in a small heavy saucepan over low heat, stir in the flour and cook for several minutes until the mixture begins to brown. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly until the mixture is smooth and thickened, then remove from the heat.  Stir in the grated nutmeg and season to taste.

Parboil the Manicotti Pasta

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the manicotti and cook at a roiling boil for 7 minutes. Drain and run under cold water. Now everything is ready and as soon as you can handle the pasta it’s time to heat the oven and stuff the pasta.

Heat the steam oven in the combination Convection Steam mode or 80% humidity (if your oven has that option) and use the default temperature setting for baking.

Add a generous cup of the tomato sauce to the bottom of the pan to prevent the pasta from moving around too much. Stuff each pasta tube with a generous amount of filling. I used a piping bag without a tip but you could also use a Ziploc bag or a spoon. Having someone hold the pasta while you fill it is very helpful!

Arrange the pasta in the prepared casserole and add enough of the sauce to cover the pasta, now add dollops of the bechamel sauce. Place the casserole in the steam oven and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the casserole from the oven, change the oven mode to Convection (with no added humidity) and increase the temperature by 25 - 30 degrees.  Add the cheeses to the top of the casserole and return it to the oven  Bake for another 10 - 12 minutes until the cheese has melted and is beginning to brown on the edges.


Steam-oven manicotti ingredients

For the Sauce

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp mixed Italian seasoning

¼ tsp dried red chili flakes

¼ cup dry white wine

⅓ cup tomato paste

1 28 oz can whole or crushed tomatoes

4 cups  chicken or vegetable stock

Salt and pepper to taste

For the Filling

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

1 lb. ground beef 

1 lb. whole milk ricotta cheese

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

2 cups spinach, coarsely chopped

1 cup chopped fresh basil and Italian parsley leaves

Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the Bechamel Sauce

2 tbsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp unbleached all purpose flour

2 cups whole milk

½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg 

Freshly ground pepper

For the Manicotti Pasta

2 boxes of Manicotti 14 tubes per box

I was able to stuff 18 tubes with the above quantity of filling

For the Topping

1 ball fresh Mozzarella, torn or cut into 2” pieces

½ cup grated Parmesan 

Serves 8 

Baked Manicotti with Spinach, Ricotta, Tomato Beef Sauce
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