Manicotti with Smoked Chicken, Chevre, Fennel and Olives
Main Course, Dinner, Lunch, Pasta
1 box manicotti pasta tubes, (8 oz.)
1 ½ cups smoked chicken meat, in small dice*
15 oz. ricotta cheese
5 oz. chevre (goat cheese), crumbled
½ large bulb fresh fennel, in small dice*
1 leek, thinly sliced (white part only), rinsed of grit
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup black olives (Nicoise, or Kalamata), pitted and chopped
½ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 tsp. fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tbsp. dried Herbs de Provence
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. Freshly ground pepper
2 cups simple marinara sauce, (homemade is best)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
STEP 1:Prepare the manicotti tubes in boiling water according to package directions. When they are cooked rinse them with cold water in a colander and then drain as much water from them as possible. Line a sheet pan with foil and place the manicotti on top. Brush them with a very light coating of olive oil and then cover them with plastic wrap. Set aside.
STEP 2:Heat 3 tablespoons of olive in a large non-stick sauté pan over medium heat. Add the diced fresh fennel and a pinch of salt. Stir and cook the fennel until it begins to soften, 4 to 5 minutes. Next add the sliced leeks to the fennel along with another pinch of salt. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the leeks are very soft. About 4 to 5 more minutes. Now add the minced garlic and cook another minute or until it is fragrant. Allow the fennel mixture to cool.
STEP 3:Put the chicken, ricotta, and chevre into a large bowl and gently fold them together a little. Next, add the fennel mixture, the olives, and the herbs. Gently fold in these ingredients so that the filling is evenly blended. Add a teaspoon of salt (or to taste) along with the freshly ground pepper to the filling mixture along with the beaten eggs. Gently fold the filling until it is completely blended.
STEP 4:Preheat your oven to 350°F. Now brush the bottom of a very large casserole (or two smaller ones) with a light coating of olive oil. Place some of the filling into a large pastry bag. **Bring the manicotti over to sit beside the prepared casserole. Using the pastry bag, fill the manicotti until the filling is just at the edge of the open ends. Place each filled manicotti into the prepared casserole. If there is extra filling look to see if any of the manicotti can receive a bit more.
STEP 5:Once all the manicotti are filled, ladle a generous spoonful of marinara sauce down the length of each one. Sprinkle them with some of the Parmesan cheese and cover the casserole with foil. Place the casserole into the hot oven and bake the manicotti for about 30-35 minutes or until they have set up slightly and have no liquid running out of them. Serve two manicotti per person with a little more Parmesan cheese over the tops. Roasted vegetables and fresh herbs are a nice accompaniment to this dish. Makes 14 manicotti, or 6-8 servings.
*Cook’s Note: the chicken and fennel for this recipe need to be in small dice so that filling the manicotti is not too challenging. **If you do not have a large pastry bag, a heavy-duty gallon-size zip lock bag can work. Cut an inch-long corner off the bag to allow the filling to be squeezed out.