Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Manicotti
1 pound fresh spinach, stems trimmed and well washed
Kosher salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon
12 manicotti shells
3 cups marinara sauce, recipe follows
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese (about 1 pound)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (about 4 ounces)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese or a mixture of half Pecorino and Parmesan
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, diced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 medium onion, diced (about 3 tablespoons)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 1/2 cups whole, peeled, canned tomatoes in puree, (one 28-ounce can), roughly chopped
Sprig of fresh thyme
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat, and season generously with salt. Fill a medium bowl with ice water and season with salt, as well. Boil the spinach, uncovered, until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, (do not drain), and immediately plunge the spinach into the ice water. Drain and squeeze the excess water from the spinach, and finely chop.
In the same large pot of boiling water, cook the pasta shells until al dente, tender but still slightly firm. Drain and pat dry.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Cover the bottom of a ovenproof baking dish with 1 cup of the marinara sauce. In a medium mixing bowl, evenly combine the ricotta, mozzarella, and 1/3 cup of the Parmesan, the eggs, and the spinach. Season with the 1/2 teaspoon salt, nutmeg, and pepper to taste. Spoon the cheese mixture into the manicotti shell and line them up in the baking dish. Cover with the remaining sauce. Scatter the remaining cheese on top and dot with the butter. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the onion and garlic, stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the herb sprigs and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
Remove and discard the herb sprigs. Stir in the salt and season with pepper to taste.