My best friend was coming to visit for a couple days and as he is not a big beef eater I thought a pasta and chicken dish would be a nice dinner. I was at the market picking up some items and saw these wonderful pasta sheets, pre-cooked and ready for use. I thought about it and decided that a rolled manicotti with fresh ricotta, poached chicken and spinach would be the way to go.
I was able to pick up quite a bit of fresh basil and chose to make a fresh pesto, too. This way it wasn’t in need of a marinara sauce and I hadn’t had fresh pesto in a while.
Thinking about how to bake it I decided to go ahead and pick up these wonderful individual Emile Henry Oval Au Gratin Dishes I saw on sale at a favorite cooking store and drove over. They were still there except instead of grabbing four there was only three left. At least they were in the red color I wanted! Perfect, so I purchased them and drove back home to start the cooking and baking.
I wanted to poach the chicken breasts and embody them with lots of flavor before shredding and then mix it with ricotta, spinach and a béchamel sauce. Traditionally, court bouillon consists of water, salt, white wine, mirepoix (onion, celery and carrot) and flavored with bouquet garni and black pepper. For this I used my homemade chicken stock instead of the water and poached the chicken breasts for about 8 minutes and turned the heat off and allowed them to come to room temperature before shredding.
Next up I made a quick béchamel sauce, which is simply a roux of flour and butter with milk incorporated to create a thick white sauce. One of the basic sauces that you can add to for any flavorful dish. I added some fresh nutmeg and set it aside, covered so it didn’t get a film on top and keep warm.
In a large sauté pan I sautéed some red pepper flakes in olive oil and added fresh crushed and chopped garlic. Sautéing this for several minutes I added the washed and dried fresh spinach. The water content will make this sputter and pop so look out. The two pounds of fresh spinach seems like quite a bit, but after a few minutes tossing it in the sauté pan reveals how quickly it breaks down. Drain the excess water and allow to cool, set aside.
In a large mixing bowl I added the ricotta cheese, the beaten egg, cooled, chopped spinach and shredded chicken. Mix thoroughly to fully incorporate with a spatula.
Next I laid out the pasta sheets, place the chicken ricotta mixture on one third of the pasta and formed it into a lengthwise shape to roll the pasta around.
I trimmed the excess edges to make sure the manicotti roll would fit. I scooped up some of the cooled béchamel sauce and places enough to cover the bottom of each oiled ceramic baking dish.
Whatever leftover and cut off pieces of filling I placed in a sealable container and placed in the refrigerator for another use.
Next up I made the fresh pesto and placed a line of this beautiful sauce on top of each manicotti roll lengthwise and topped with fresh parmesan cheese.
Finish each roll with the rest of the béchamel sauce and a drizzle of some good olive oil and in the oven they went!
These were so good and fresh basil pesto really made the difference. The cheesy béchamel sauce was a lovely golden brown color and the tender manicotti were a hit.
The ricotta, spinach and chicken inside was a beautiful, tender and delicious mixture and served in individual ceramic dishes made for a welcoming family home cooked meal.
After allowing for these to cool slightly they were gone in a few minutes. Funny part of a good meal that has a lot of love and preparation behind it is, is that it is usually eaten in just a few minutes. Good food and friends are what make it all worth the effort.
- 1 lb chicken breasts
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 carrot
- 1 celery stalk
- ½ medium onion
- kosher salt
- 4 tbsp butter
- 4 tbsp flour
- 2 cups milk
- 2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
- 2 lbs fresh spinach
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
- pinch red pepper flakes
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup fresh pesto
- 2 lbs ricotta cheese
- 1 egg, beaten
- lasagna sheet pasta
- parmesan cheese
- Poach the chicken breasts for 8 minutes in the white wine, chicken stock, mirepoix of chopped celery, carrot and onion. Add the fresh herbs wrapped in kitchen twine for easy removal. Turn off the heat and allow to come to room temperature. Remove and shred the chicken, discard the poaching liquid and vegetables.
- To make the béchamel, in a sauté´pan add the flour and butter, allow to cook for several minutes to turn a golden color and cook the flour out. Slowly add the milk using a whisk to avoid any lumps and simmer for a few minutes until thickened. Add the nutmeg and stir. Allow to cool and cover. Set aside.
- In another sauté pan add the olive oil, red pepper flakes and garlic. Sauté for several minutes and add the spinach. After fit breaks down, continue to toss and when cooked for several minutes allow to cool. Drain excess water and set aside.
- Make or purchase the pest and set aside. In a large mixing bowl add the ricotta cheese, egg, shredded chicken, spinach and season with kosher salt. Lay out the pasta sheets, place the chicken ricotta mixture on one third of the pasta and formed it into a lengthwise shape to roll the pasta around. Trim the excess edges to make sure the manicotti fit the baking dish. Cover the bottom of each oiled ceramic baking dish with the béchamel sauce and place two manicotti on top.
- Top each roll with fresh pesto, parmesan cheese and the rest of the béchamel sauce. Drizzle olive oil on top and bake in a 450° oven for 20 minutes covered with aluminum foil. Remove foil and bake another 15 minutes until cheese and béchamel sauce is a golden brown. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.