So the food threads got me thinking about this and i'm in a wordy mood today :)
My mom tried making manacotti once and cooking the noodles and stuffing the aldente noodles (that was funny) before realizing if she just added a little more water to the sauce the noodles would cook through so she could stuff the noodles "raw" without cooking first.
I took that a step further making a TON of 8x8 disposable pans of manacotti for me/ex/ds1 when pregnant with ds2. I guess i was inspired from all the OAMC threads I was reading back then. unfortunately I didn't account for it taking 2 days to thaw, and the fact aluminum would react with tomato...etc.
Suffice to say most ended up in the trash :(
I really liked idea of making in bulk however, since I refuse to buy pre-shred cheese, and stuffing noodles and mixing up all that ricotta and egg mixture etc is horribly time consuming! Takes like 3hrs to make wether you are doing 1 small pan or 12!
My next attempt worked, and thats what i'm sharing.
I have a basic recipe that I follow, but I modified that even to fit my likes. I consider recipes to be suggestions :)
I start off my cooking off garlic and onions in a big dutch oven, adding in several large cans of tomato "sauce" (the puree kind) and usually some paste to thicken. add fresh basil or dried if I don't have any, oregano, red wine (cuz I love red wine!) etc until I get a sauce I like. because I don't like thick/chunky sauces anyway I don't have to worry about adding liquid. never had a problem...but if you prefer a thicker sauce make sure you thin it a bit because the noodles will absorb the water when cooking.
My mom will put in peppers sometimes, and always does sausage. her original recipe called for sausage in the cheese mix inside noodles but she discovered it made things more difficult and tasted the same if you threw into sauce. mom doesn't LIKE cooking tho and her sauce is bland and bottled.
I HATE sausauge....I hate fennel and such...ick...so I skip meat all together but you can use whatever sauce and whatever meat additions you'd like. be really good i'd think with typical italian "sunday sauce" which usually involves cooking several different large cuts of meat in thin tomato sauce. you eat meats and leftover sauce has meaty flavor and little bits of meat floating in it. yum!
Once thats cooking at a low simmer I mix the cheese. I usually do ricotta, motz, and some "sticky foot cheese" as my dad calls it. parm/asiago, etc...or a combo. salt/pepper/egg....as per my recipe, omitting the meat and usually adding in a bit extra if I can. I usually use 1 batch more of the cheese than the # of noodles it is supposed to fill. otherwise i'm always a few noodles short!
Fill noodles. Since I use hand shredded (thick) motz, i've tried the ziplock filling trick and struggled because the long shreds of cheese got stuck. I just use a spoon. I take giant mixing bowl to my couch, spread out the plastic containers of noodles and fill watching bad TV. LOL.
Once i'm done filling the noodles I put them back into their plastic trays. I fill up whatever pan I intend on using to cook them which if memory serves is 8x8 (I haven't done this in awhile and I think next time i'll need to do 9x13 the way my boys eat already!). Using measuring cup I measure how much sauce it takes to fill the pan properly. you'll want the sauce to cover the noodles so they cook properly.
then I eyeball how much cheese to put on top.
Throw the pan into the oven to bake while I finish my freezing!
I count my noodles so I have a even # of pans worth. lay them on a cookie sheet for freezing and toss into freezer to flash freeze them. usually they are pretty solid in a few hours. Put them into large gallon ziplocks and call it a day.
I measure out the correct amount of sauce into quart ziplocks, lay them flat and freeze them. Measure out cheese for topping and put into sandwich baggies.
Once all the sauces are frozen solid I usually throw them all into a bigger gallon ziplock along with all the cheeses to keep them together, but I currently have a side by side so they can get lost pretty easy ;)
Whenever I want manacotti I pull out the # of filled noodles I want, put them in the desinated pan. cover pan with foil (since my recipe calls to cover with cheese and foil then pull foil off last X number of minutes) and put into fridge in the morning. I put in baggies of sauce and cheese as well.
When I get home from work I clip corner of sauce back and pour over noodles, cover with cheese and put foil back on and bake as directed.
The noodles tend to split while defrosting, but honestly you can't tell AT ALL when eating and it tastes totally like fresh.
Takes about 30min to make what normally would take me several hours, and really doesn't take very long to do in bulk initially.
I think when I did 8x8 I could cram in 8 or 9 noodles. if I didn't have enough filled noodles to come out evenly i'd throw them into a bread pan and cover with sauce and bake along with the first pan the day I am making them. I usually don't struggle to get rid of extras....and they reheat OK for a pasta dish :)
Or now that I have quite a few kid-free-nights, I'll just throw some leftover sauce into a bag and label it "to make X number of noodles" and cook a small pan for just me :)
Hopefully this trick helps someone else....and feel free to share any other fun tricks to cook in bulk like this!
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