This summer, I’m going to be posting a series of fifteen low-cost, tasty, and easy-to-prepare meals that are literally straight from my own kitchen.
I love tuna. It’s a wonderfully light fish with a distinctive flavor that works well in summer meals. It’s also a component of a tuna noodle casserole that my mother used to make that remains one of my comfort foods.
Sarah and I wanted to build on that “comfort” tuna noodle casserole, making it a bit healthier and a bit lighter. After riffing on some recipes from various cookbooks, we came up with tuna-stuffed manicotti with a cheese sauce, served with a spinach salad and a really simple fruity side dish that goes great with a summer meal (which I’ll mention at the end):
This meal used what looks like a small mountain of ingredients, but they actually came together pretty well:
Here’s what we used:
16 manicotti shells
2/3 cup finely chopped green pepper (about a bell pepper’s worth)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion (about a third or so of a medium onion)
5 tablespoons butter or margarine
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups cottage cheese
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese (I usually like to grate this myself, but we didn’t have a chunk of Parmesan on hand)
1 teaspoon marjoram
2 cups cooked vegetables (peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower – any of those will work)
2 small cans of tuna (about 12 ounces total)
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (your choice – we used American because of how well it melts)
Our total cost for all of these ingredients was $9.62. Our end product served the four of us for dinner and for lunch the next day, bringing the cost per meal down to $1.20.
The first step is to cook the manicotti according to package directions, leaving you with some big pasta tubes to stuff. While that’s boiling, put two tablespoons of butter or margarine in a skillet over medium heat until it’s melted, then cook the green pepper and onion until it’s a little tender (but not brown).
Next, get out a big bowl and mix together the eggs, cottage cheese, half of the Parmesan cheese, marjoram, the peppers and onions, the tuna, and the vegetables you choose to use (we used peas).
Stir this up until it’s consistent. It’ll be moist but not watery.
Then, just stuff the manicotti shells with this mixture and lay them in a lightly greased 9″ by 13″ pan. You’ll have plenty to fill up each manicotti tube.
When we finished stuffing, our pan looked like this:
Now, for the cheese sauce on top.
We just melted three tablespoons of butter or margarine over medium heat, then mixed in the flour, salt, and a dash of pepper until it became thick and almost doughy. We then poured in all of the milk and stirred it until it was evenly thick, like a thick soup. We then added the cheese and kept stirring the sauce until it was all melted, looking something like this:
Once it’s melted, we just poured it over the manicotti, sprinkled the remaining Parmesan on top, covered the pan with aluminum foil, and stuck it in the oven for about 40 minutes at 350 F (180 C).
Our pan looked wonderful when we pulled it out of the oven:
We chose to serve it with a spinach salad and with a simple frozen fruit salad on the side. The fruit salad was really easy – we just mixed together some miscellaneous fruits we had laying around (quartered grapes, coconut, and some celery were the key ones) along with some peach-flavored yogurt. We poured this mixture into cupcake shells and froze them, popping them out just before the meal. It was a wonderful summery side.
Our family loved this. My four year old son actually ate more manicotti than I did (he ate one and a half pieces to my single one). When we pulled it out again to have for leftovers the next day, the kids actually started cheering (and I did, too – it was delicious).
This is just all-around a wonderful dish – it’s priced right, is quite flavorful, and is easy to make (you can do all of it the night before, stick it in the fridge, and just bake it the next day if you want).