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From My Kitchen: Turkey Manicotti

A fairly easy dinner to throw together. You can use lean turkey or fat-free. Same with the ricotta: low-fat, part-skim, or whole-milk all work fine. Avoid fat-free ricotta, as the texture isn't that great. Be sure to squeeze the hell out of the spinach, otherwise the filling will be watery. You can use the entire package of spinach if you want, but I prefer to leave out a good handful (1/2 to 3/4 cup), for a creamier filling. If you've never filled manicotti before, it can take a couple of tries to get a feel for it. I don't bother with a pastry bag, since that's one more thing to clean up. Just use a smallish spoon and put a tablespoon or so of filling into the pasta tubes at a time. If a tube splits, don't worry. Hold it flat in your hand and place the filling on top, then roll it back up and place it seam-side down in the baking dish.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Yield: 7 servings (two manicotti per serving)

8-oz. package dry manicotti
1.25 lb. package ground turkey
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp thyme leaves
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/4 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper
26-oz. jar and 14-oz. jar tomato-based pasta sauce (I like Classico's Tomato and Basil)
15-oz. package ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted, drained, and squeezed well to get all the moisture out (remove up to 3/4 cup of spinach and discard, if desired; see note above.)
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13 inch Pyrex baking dish with nonstick spray. Pour the 14-oz. jar of pasta sauce into the bottom of the baking dish.

Put a large pot of water to boil -- the bigger, the better. The manicotti will cook faster if they have room to move. When water comes to a boil, add salt (plenty of it; at least 2 Tbsp.) and manicotti. Cook according to package directions (about 9 minutes) and then drain and set aside to cool slightly.

Place a large nonstick skillet on medium heat. Mix the turkey with the Italian seasoning, thyme, poultry seasoning, garlic powder, and salt and pepper. Cook until turkey is no longer pink, about 8 minutes. Add the 26-oz. jar of pasta sauce to the turkey and combine thoroughly. Turn heat off and set aside while making cheese filling.

In a large bowl, combine ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, spinach, and egg. Mix thoroughly. Fill manicotti tubes with a spoon, stuffing the filling into the tubes a tablespoon at a time. Fill them completely; this recipe makes enough filling for all fourteen manicotti that come in a standard 8-oz. package. Place filled manicotti into the baking dish. Pour turkey mixture over the top, making sure to cover all of the pasta tubes.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake 35 minutes, until bubbly. Cool slightly and then eat!



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