Nothing says comfort food more than a plate of pasta that’s steaming hot and right out of the oven. This broccoli and ricotta stuffed manicotti is kicked up a notch by a flavorful, yet oh so easy to make, homemade tomato sauce. The filling is so creamy that it’s hard to believe that it’s made with skim milk and fat-free ricotta.
Broccoli and Ricotta Manicotti
adapted from The Best Ever Vegetarian Cookbook 
2 teaspoons olive oil
12 dried manicotti (or cannelloni) tubes, 3 inches long
4 cups broccoli florets
1 1/2 cups panko (or breadcrumbs)
2/3 cup skim milk
4 Tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing
1 cup no-fat ricotta cheese
pinch of grated nutmeg
6 Tablespoons Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, grated
2 Tablespoons sliced almonds (or pine nuts)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the tomato sauce:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 28oz can organic crushed tomatoes with basil
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons black olives, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add olive oil to prevent pasta from sticking. Cook 8-9 minutes until pasta is completely cooked. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the pasta from cooking and set aside. (When working on the rest of the steps, check to make sure the pasta isn’t drying out. Brush a little water on the pasta if it is…)
While pasta is cooking, steam the broccoli for 10 minutes until tender (not mushy). After steaming the broccoli let it cool a bit, then put into a food processor or blender. Process until smooth.
In a large bowl, combine panko and milk and oil. Stir until the panko is softened. Add the ricotta, broccoli, nutmeg and 4 Tablespoons for the grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions and garlic and cook until softened. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, black olives and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and let simmer for 5 – 10 minutes.
Spoon the broccoli and cheese mixture into a pastry bag or a zip-top bag with the corner snipped. (A tip – an easy method for spooning the mixture in the bag is to put the bag in a wide mouthed container and fold the top over the sides. This will hold the bag open.) Open the pasta tubes and squeeze the mixture into each. Make sure to not overfill the pasta.
Pour the simmered sauce into the bottom of a 9×13 glass baking pan. Place the filled pasta tubes into the baking pan. Brush the tops of the pasta with a little olive oil. Then sprinkle the remaining cheese and almonds on top.
Place in oven preheated to 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes – until golden.