Chicken Sausage and Spinach Manicotti

This recipe was developed for a quick weeknight meal, but it is adaptable for a homemade upgrade that is perfect for a stay-home, date night dish. For a busy weeknight, this recipe incorporates packaged noodles and jarred marinara. You can make it on the weekend for an even quicker version of a weeknight meal that just requires heating.

This meal was inspired by a dish at one of my favorite Italian restaurants, where the noodles are made from scratch daily and you can taste the love and attention that went into creating the pasta from this family-owned establishment. When time allows, I like to switch out the store-bought noodles and marinara for homemade. This meal pairs well with your favorite red wine, and I find that drinking wine while making homemade pasta is half the fun. Try adding some Italian music and making this meal together for a lovely date night.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound or 3 mild Italian chicken sausages, casings removed
1 (8 ounce) package manicotti noodles
2 cups frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
1 (15 ounce) container part-skim ricotta cheese
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 (24 ounce) jar marinara
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, and spray an 8 by 10 baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Warm olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook for one minute, until fragrant. Add Italian chicken sausage and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until browned.
3. Cook noodles according to package instructions. Drain noodles and allow to cool enough to handle.
4. In a large bowl combine Italian chicken sausage, spinach, ricotta cheese, nutmeg, salt and white pepper. Stir until well combined. Place mixture in large zip top bag. Cut a small slit in the corner of the bag. Pipe mixture into manicotti noodles, filling evenly and then placing in the baking dish.
5. Cover stuffed manicotti with marinara and bake for 25 minutes, until edges are brown and sauce is bubbly. Remove and top with Parmesan cheese. Continue baking for about 2 minutes, until cheese has melted.

Note: You can freeze leftovers for a homemade microwaveable meal or lunch.

Servings: 7 ~ Serving size: 2 stuffed manicotti

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