Swiss Chard and Sweet Pea Manicotti

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    One of my hubby’s favorite meals is a nice plate of manicotti with a delicious tomato sauce and lots of gooey cheese.  So, when I saw this recipe, I just had to try it!  Now, granted, it doesn’t include a tomato sauce, but there definitely is no lack of gooey cheese!  And if you’re trying to get the kids to eat some more green veggies…….this will work!

    The yummy filling for this dish has, not one, but three cheeses!  And……instead of the typical tomato-based sauce, there’s a creamy and delicious fontina fonduta sauce.  A “fonduta” sauce is like an Italian cheese sauce (think….fondue).  “Fontina” is a classic Italian cow’s milk cheese.    The original Fontina from Italy has a rather intense flavor. You can recognize it by its tan-colored rind.  Fontina from other countries will have a red rind and the flavor will be milder.  If you can’t find Fontina, you can substitute a mild provolone, gouda, or gruyere.

    Which ever cheese you use, you have to make this!  It’s so comforting and delicious!!  I recently made this when having family over for a Sunday dinner.  This was a great choice!  I put it together on Saturday and just popped it in to bake when we got home from church on Sunday.  Let’s just say……nobody complained!!  (Note:  I made a double recipe for Sunday, so what you see in some of the pictures is double what this recipe calls for.)  

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Swiss Chard and Sweet Pea Manicotti   (serves 4-6)

Butter, for greasing the baking dish
12 manicotti pasta shells

1 bunch (about 12 oz.) swiss chard (I used “Rainbow” chard), washed
2 tblsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
15 oz. whole-milk ricotta cheese
3/4 cup frozen baby peas, thawed
4 oz. (1 cup) shredded mozzarella cheese
2 oz. (3/4 cup) grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Fontina Fonduta Sauce:
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 oz. (3 cups) grated fontina cheese
2 tblsp. grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 tblsp. chopped fresh basil

6 oz. (1 1/2 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese

The first thing to do is bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the manicotti shells and cook them until they’re tender, but still firm.  Drain them and rinse in cold water.  Lay out on a sheet pan, on waxed paper, to cool while you make the filling.
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Now, using kitchen scissors or a knife, remove the Swiss Chard stems.  Chop the leaves into approx. 1″ pieces.
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Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook until soft, 5-7 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer.
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Now, add the chard and cook, stirring, until it’s wilted.  This should just take a couple minutes.  Remove the mixture from the heat and let cool slightly.
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While that’s cooling, place the ricotta cheese, peas, 4 oz. mozzarella cheese, basil, salt, and pepper into a food processor.  Then add the cooled chard mixture and blend until smooth.
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(I love the color!  You can’t see it in the picture, but mine had tiny specks of colors from the rainbow-colored stems.)
Spoon the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip (or no tip at all).  If you don’t have a pastry bag you can just, carefully, spoon the filling into the shells.  The pastry bag just makes it a little easier.  After you fill the shells, place them into a 9″x13″ casserole dish that has been liberally coated with butter.
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The last thing to do is make the fonduta sauce.
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Bring the milk and cream to a simmer over medium heat.  Reduce the heat to low and add the fontina cheese.  Stir constantly until the cheese is melted and the mixture is smooth.
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Now, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese and basil.
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Pour the sauce over the manicotti and sprinkle with the 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese.  Bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until the top is golden.  Let it stand for 5 minutes before serving.
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Now, this is something to get excited about, if I do say so myself!!

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For printable recipe, click here.
Recipe from “Giada’s Kitchen” by Giada DeLaurentiis 

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