Saturday, August 8, 2009

Another Frugal Food Experiment: Poor Man's Ricotta Cheese

Last week I subjected my whole family to the Poor Man's (Turkey) Burger. All the burger- eaters seemed to like it just fine. This week, I have been trying to use up random food in the house without buying more (well, apart from crazy Shaw's stockpile runs) because we're going away and I don't want things in the fridge to go to waste.

Anyway, I had this idea to make stuffed manicotti, only I didn't have any ricotta cheese. What I did have is a large zucchini. When I was a teenager I started making a vegetarian lasagne recipe that involved shredding zucchini and mixing it with the ricotta cheese. I have made this for years now, and no man, woman, or child of any age who has ever consumed it has ever noticed or complained, because it is tasty and no one notices the zucchini.

Well, today, I wondered, what would happen if you just had the zucchini, and no ricotta cheese whatsoever? Such as, right now? I was going to try.

Manicotti Stuffed with Kale & Zucchini

1 package manicotti
2 cups kale, washed and torn
1 large zucchini
5-6 leaves fresh basil, chopped (or dried, if you don't have fresh)
dash pepper & salt
2 tbsp grated Parmesan
1 jar pasta sauce
1/2 cup shredded cheese
a little fresh parsley (optional, but you knew that)

I also had some random beans from my garden. They are completely unnecessary in this recipe.

  1. Prepare the pasta according to package directions. In a separate pan, steam or boil the kale. Meanwhile, grate your zucchini. I always use a regular cheese grater, but it takes a long time and makes my hand hurt. I'm sure a food processor would be faster. I got one at my bridal shower, but have yet to remove it from its box. I'm sure I'll use it someday.
  2. Add pepper, salt, basil, and parmesan to the zucchini mixture. Drain the kale well and stir in with the zucchini. If the mixture seems overly runny, you can strain off any liquid, but I didn't bother.
  3. Put a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of a 13 x 9 pan. Stuff the manicotti. I wasn't sure how to do this. I tried using my fingers. Most of the manicotti had tears in it, anyway, so I ended up just splitting them open, putting the filling inside and closing them back up. I guess I wasn't the first person with that idea. Arrange the manicotti semi-neatly in the pan. (I threw the beans on the top. Just ignore them.)
  4. Pour rest of sauce over pasta and top with cheese and fresh parsley. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour.

This was a very happy cheapskate meal. The zucchini was .50 a pound, the manicotti was reduced to .50 as well, the sauce I stockpiled for next to nothing, and the kale was .69/lb. The basil was free from the garden (along with the random beans that I threw in there. I had to do something with them) and the cheese was probably the most expensive thing, maybe .75 worth? We had it with some salad and slices of homemade bread. This meal probably cost $3.00 total, plus it made leftovers.

And- everyone liked it! The kids asked a couple of times, "What are the noodles full of?" and my husband said, "It doesn't matter. It's good, so eat it." And they did. I didn't think it tasted like cheese or anything, but grated zucchini is definitely a satisfactory pasta filling on its own. Another successful frugal food experiment... I'm on a roll!

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