When the forecast in Portland calls for snow and ice over a weekend, the best thing to do is remain off the roads and make a project dinner.
Being from New York City and having spent 5 winters in Minnesota, we are continuously amazed at what happens in Portland when it snows. So far this winter there have been three storms in Portland with measurable snow and ice on the ground. None have deposited more than a couple inches, but each caused a certain amount of chaos. Were this New York or Minneapolis we would have breathed a sigh of relief saying the storm missed us.
So we elected to hunker down and craft one of our signature project dinners: vegetarian manicotti with fresh pancakes.
Prep Your Station
First, prepare at least 14 sheets of parchment paper squares. I tear off about 10 inches from the roll and then cut it in half. Preheat the oven on warm (170).
Grate up some mozzarella and set in refrigerator until needed.
Prepare the Filling
Wrap the tofu in paper towels and set it drying then slice the mushrooms.
Coarse chop one onion. We’re using either Mayan or Walla Walla sweets. I know food scientists say paying extra for sweet onions, if you’re cooking them, is a waste of money, but I swear sweet onions are more forgiving in recipes. For sure they don’t spew teargas as aggressively as regular onions.
Sauté the mushrooms (I added half a package of little Shitakes to the Baby Bellas) until most of the liquor is expressed and the mushrooms begin to brown. Add the onion and continue to sauté until everything is lightly browned and fairly dry. You’re going to be adding the tofu and ricotta next and you want to end up with a fairly dry mix so let the moisture cook off between adding stuff.
Add the tofu to the mushroom/onion mix and aggressively break it up. As the moisture cooks off begin adding herbs and spices. I go nuts at this point adding oregano, basil, Aleppo pepper, chervil, big pinches of salt, maybe some chili flakes, Tuscan Sunset blend, more salt, more oregano.
Once the mixture has cooked off the tofu water, add a heaping dollop of ricotta (a cup? cup and a half?) and blend in well. You should still have a pretty hot fire under this pan so keep things moving.
Add more herbs and spices and salt.
Once the filling is well-blended and the ricotta moisture has cooked off remove the pan from heat and place in the pre-warmed oven to wait until needed.
Now’s a good time to ready your intended sauce. This past summer we found a farmer at the Milwaukie Farmers’ Market who was happy to sell off bushels of heirloom tomatoes. Cash & Carry had half-bushels of assorted heirlooms, too, so we were swimming in tomatoes at one point. I made lots of sauce, vacuumed it, and froze it. If we didn’t have homemade sauce at the ready I’d probably just open a 28 oz. can of Muir Glen crushed tomatoes, pour it in a pot, warm it up, add some herbs and salt and call it good.
Combine four eggs, 1 cup flour, 1 cup water, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and 1 teaspoon of salt to make a thin, eggy batter.
This begins my favorite step. Heat up your beloved 7″ high-carbon steel fry pan and give it a quick wipe with some high-temp vegetable oil. Low-medium heat is fine, the goal is not to brown the pancakes in the next step.
Off the heat pour in a small amount of batter and quickly swirl to cover the pan. If you think you’ve poured in too much batter, quickly tip the frying pan and pour back the extra. You want an even, thin coating. The pancake will set up and cook very quickly. Once the edges begin to peel away from the pan, I pinch the edge and flip the pancake over to cook on the other side for just a few seconds. This last step is mostly unnecessary, but I do it anyway just to be sure both sides are fully set and won’t adhere to the parchment.
Once done, slide the pancake onto the waiting parchment paper. Cover with another sheet and repeat the process until the batter is all gone. The total time for each pancake should be under 1 minute. Watch the heat. If you notice the pancake beginning to crisp, turn down the flame.
Last Addition before Filling
Wilt three large handfuls of spinach. I like to add a cup of chicken broth to the frying pan and get it steaming then sprinkle some garlic powder before adding the spinach. Don’t over cook, you just want it wilted. Drain the spinach really well, retrieve the filling from the warm oven and fold in the spinach.
Coat the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish with sauce, then, one by one, take a pancake, add a healthy dollop of filling, close up the roll and place in the baking dish seam side down. The goal is to use up all the filling with the last pancake.
Like this! Yes, we had two pancakes left over, but 14 nicely stuffed manicotti are plenty.
Cover with tomato sauce and bake in a moderate oven (300-325) for 30-45 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and slightly reduced.
Remove from oven and top with grated mozzarella. Increase oven temp to 375 and bake until cheese is fully melted and goopy, maybe another 20 minutes. I like to pull it before the cheese browns.
Let your creation rest uncovered for at least 15 minutes before you try to serve. Cutting into portions and serving can be challenging since the pancakes are fragile. I cut the mozzarella topping with a sharp knife then try to excavate two or three manicotti in one go with a fish spatula.
And there you have it. Normally we’d have this with some type of green vegetable or in summer a salad, but tonight we’re stopping here. Heck, there’s spinach in the filling.
And this is the $9.99 bottle of Bordeaux to go with it. A fine end to a quiet snow day!