Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bratwurst with Spinach and Cheese Manicotti

One of the things that stuck with me from attending Brat Days in Sheboygan, WI was to use bratwurst in creative ways other than the customary grilled brat. 

Sliced, cubed or used as bulk sausage, it all still delivers the robust flavor of bratwurst.   I saw this recipe for Four Cheese and Sausage Stuffed Manicotti on the box of manicotti and decided to change it around to make this version which got raves from the family.

Bratwurst with Spinach and Cheese Manicotti

by www.nibblemethis.com
Prep Time: 20 min
Cook Time: 1 hour
Makes:  (14 manicotti)

    You'll need
    • 1 package Johnsonville Bratwurst (19 oz)
    • 1 package manicotti (8 oz)
    • 3/4 cup onion, diced (DIVIDED)
    • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped (DIVIDED)
    For the sauce
    • 1/2 cup bell pepper, diced
    • 2 15oz can petite diced tomatoes
    • 1 6oz can tomato paste
    • 2 tsp basil paste (equivalent to 2 tsp fresh basil)
    • 1 tsp brown sugar
    • 1/2 tsp black pepper
    • 3/4 tsp salt
    For the cheese stuffing
    • 10 oz frozen chopped spinach, cooked according to directions and well drained
    • 2 cups ricotta cheese
    • 1 1/2 cup mozzarella, shredded (DIVIDED)
    • 1 egg
    • 6 slices provolone cheese, torn into bits
    • 3/4 cup Pecorino-romano cheese, shredded (DIVIDED)
    1. Remove the casings from your bratwursts and break the sausage into small pieces. Brown in a large saute pan (3 qt). When almost browned, add 1/4 of the chopped onion and 1 clove garlic. Cook until the onion is soft, another 3-5 minutes. Drain meat in a colander and set aside.
    2. Return saute pan to stove top and saute the remaining 1/2 cup onions and 1/2 cup diced bell pepper until just starting to turn soft (5 minutes or so). Add the remaining 2 cloves garlic and cook another minute.
    3. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, sugar, salt and pepper. Rinse the tomato paste can and add that water to the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
    4. Stir together the egg, ricotta, provolone, mozzarella and 1/4 cup of the Pecorino-Romano cheese. Mix in 1/2 of the meat and all of the spinach. Set aside.
    5. Cook manicotti according to directions.
    6. For a smoother sauce, use an immersion blender on your tomato mix. If you prefer a more coarse texture, don't. Add the other half of the meat mixture to the tomato mix and simmer another 5-10 minutes.
    7. Carefully stuff manicotti with the meat/cheese mixture.
    8. Layer 1/2 of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Place stuffed manicotti on top. Top with remaining sauce, cover pan with foil and cook at 350f for 35 minutes.
    9. Remove foil, top with 1/2 cup mozzarella and 1/2 cup Pecorino-Romano cheeses, and put back in the oven for 5-10 minutes.
    10. Garnish with parsley if desired.
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    It's a mess at this point!

    I prefer my sauce texture smooth, so I hit it with the immersion blender.

    Instead of trying to spoon it into the manicotti, we found it easier to roll up like compound butter and stick it in there.

    Stuffed and ready to roll!

    Just like enchiladas, getting the first one out is messy but it goes easier after that.

    My 13 y/o declared this "better than lasagna". 

    You can also portion these out in individual boats like this and cook them that way.
    As we had finished devouring this, Alexis asked me about the difference between bratwurst and Italian sausage.  I wasn't sure so I had to look it up.  It is basically two things, the blend of meat used and the seasonings.  
    • Italian sausage is made from pork, bratwurst is a blend of pork and veal.
    • The signature notes of Italian sausage are garlic, fennel, and red chile flake.  Brats are seasoned with things like ginger, coriander, caraway seed and nutmeg.  [Source:  Field Guide To Meat]
    So there you go. 

    We will be making this again.  One of the things that I like about it is that you can make it up ahead of time, refrigerate and then just pop in the oven when you are ready to cook it.  You can never have enough "make ahead" dishes, can you?