Sunday, June 28, 2009

24.0 Manicotti Redux

Starring Erin & Mike, Adam & Josh and Sarah
Filmed on Location in Beautiful Downtown Sellwood
Soundtrack: Willoughby by Mike “Sport” Murphy

“So let's go out and act as if it's Saturday - I cannot bear to wait 'til one arrives.”

Madonna mia! Why must writing this article be such a chore? Our present meal in the Sellwood Kitchen tantalized, satisfied and even conjured (the primary effect I seek). Yet here I sit in front of the laptop, sipping on a souvenir Japanese Grapefruit wine cooler, and thinking about what to write (a Zen master would suggest “not-thinking,” a state of consciousness conducive to enlightenment). The wine cooler can (yes, the can) bore only the word “grapefruit” in English. But I’d been forewarned (threatened?) that the contents did contain alcohol. I wonder if there’s some NHK-inspired parody of Bartles & Jaymes in Shibuya.

We wonder if there’s an NHK-inspired parody of you in Shibuya, and if so, can we TiVo it?

That’s terrific. So anyway, I know Erin has similar blocks, scrambling for a recipe before the deadline. With greater ease, she lights upon a lip-smacking dish. Me, I’m as dull-faced as Spencer Pratt at a Richard Feynman lecture. Leave us turn back the hands of time to that delightful day in May from whence derives our episode. (Disclaimer: The following events did not transpire on one day, although we shall proceed as if they had.)

12:05am: Saturday begins as usual at midnight where I find myself at PDX awaiting the arrival of my Aunt Arlene’s flight from New York. She said she was getting in at 9pm (she was wrong); the airline said 11pm (they were wrong); the plane lands at 12:05am (it was correct). Home. Bed. Sleep.

9:05am: I donate a busted TV and dump off a deuce of moldy director’s chair (and I don’t mean Clint Eastwood) at S.M.I.L.E’s annual clean-up day. Five bucks for a good cause. They do it every year.

10:25am: After a quick brunch with Aunt Arlene at my mom’s place, I walk home with an Entenmanns crumb cake, flown in fresh from her carry-on. It’s a beautifully sunny day!

10:28am: I stop by the annual Sherrett Street Book Sale – in essence, the “perfect” garage sale, with proceeds benefitting the Oregon Association for Childhood Education International. I picked up a couple James Joyces, a Styron (the memoir), Loren Eisley’s “The Immense Journey”, two animal books and three LPs, including Johnny Smith on Verve.

Well, aren’t you a modest pseudo-intellectual, complete with just a hint of hip ennui?

Oh, why do you say that? Because I was flipping through Ulysses at the Laundromat?

No, we think your attempts at erudition produce mere fringes of facts, bolstered by bolts of noisy info-tainment. It’s like filling in a manicotti tube with whipped cream.

Wow, tell a fella what you really mean, right? Listen, did you mention manicotti because you read ahead in my rough draft, or was that just a coincidence?

William Burroughs says “In the magical universe there are no coincidences and there are no accidents.”Also, we read the title up above.

Oh, yeah. Well, then that takes us up to…

7:40pm: I wake up on the couch (where I fell asleep after my busy morning – remember all that walking?). Adam & Josh are seated at the kitchen table.

“The black spots are protein.” Maybe I’m in a waking dream. Adam’s talking about the ants. We have ants.

“No, it’s pepper,” covers Erin mock-heroically. But it’s ants. It’s 7:42 and Sarah and Erin are making manicotti, or “munuhgut” or (dreadfully) “manny cotty.” But to quote “Sixteen Candles”: You don’t spell it, son, you eat it!

There was a gluten issue concerning the purchase of non-Gluten Intolerancy Committee-approved pasta – in this instance, manicotti tubes. So let me now issue this warning: This is not a gluten-free recipe. Let me also exalt this proclamation: This is not a gluten-free recipe!

I don’t think I’ve had manicotti in years. I used to eat it like it was going out of style. Which it did, I guess, or else so many manicotti-less nights wouldn’t have passed without regard. Tonight, this isn't the frozen variety I microwaved in its cardboard crèche, lo, those many years ago (it was my first foray into gourmet) – this is homemade eye-tie!

While Sellwood is by no means the Little Italy of Portland (it's a “little musty,” but that's just because of all the antiques...), we do have our share of ristorantes – Gino's, Portofino, a Cena, Staccato Gelato and the Garden State food cart (that’s a nice sausage sandwich). I’ll add the Sellwood Kitchen to the list (my name’s O’Shaughnessy, but I’m also half Russo).

“…but you can’t make him laugh.” That was the punch line to an alternate article title. I changed the title. Manicotti is a funny word, but it won’t join a comedy troupe. It’s funny on its own and repels any attempts at pun. One can only regard the title of the piece as an essence of the beatific simplicity of the word manicotti. At best, one could affix an obsequious adjective postpositively.

So is manicotti a stuck-up dish? (I once admonished a Fettuccini Alfredo to get off his high horse.)

No matter, manicotti: It’s what’s inside what counts.


Erin’s Intro: Sometimes you just need gluten. Not really, but apparently no one makes gluten-free manicotti shells; I might have to look into manufacturing them someday. I’d have to manufacture GF Ricotta too, because I learned this month that it’s no good for the gluten intolerant. Although I normally would have protested by making something else…well, we needed a recipe STAT! Don’t worry, we didn’t poison Josh, we made a separate dish for him; he loves pasta, literally. Well, this month I decided to kick back and take it easy, so I let Sarah take the lead – she makes a mean manicotti!

8oz. box manicotti noodles
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 cups grated mozzarella, divided
¾ cup grated parmesan, divided
2 eggs, beaten
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
10oz box frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 large shallot, minced
3oz. pancetta, chopped
4 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 twenty-six oz jars pasta sauce
1 cup water
1 tbsp Italian seasoning (optional)

Start with a sauté pan with a touch of oil on medium heat; add the pancetta, sauté for about 4 min. until it begins to brown; add shallots and sauté until translucent and starting to brown. Add garlic and sauté for an additional minute. Set aside to cool. Next, in a large bowl combine ricotta and beaten eggs until smooth. Add 1 cup mozzarella, ½ cup parmesan, salt, pepper, spinach and the pancetta mixture. Mix well. Combine jars of sauce and water (and seasonings if desired); pour 1/3 of this mixture into a 9x13 inch baking dish.

Next we stuff the shells! Put the ricotta mixture into a gallon sized plastic bag, cut a one-inch hole in the corner to create a make-shift piping bag to squeeze the filling into the uncooked manicotti shells. Place stuffed shells into baking dish in single layer. (Place any extra stuffed shells into separate smaller casserole dish and freeze for later use). Top with remaining sauce and sprinkle with remaining cheeses. Place in 350º oven until noodles are soft in the middle (45 minutes to an hour). Remove from oven and let set for 10 minutes and enjoy!

The “In the Sellwood Kitchen” cast and crew can be contacted at: