I don’t go for pretty in meal presentation for the most part, and I want as many of the recipes published on Become Greater to be easy for most people to make in a reasonable amount of time from real ingredients they can obtain easily. If you can make it easily, and you like how it tastes, then you are more likely to make it a part of your Healthful Living Practice. This is one dish that could be made much more fancily, mostly by taking more care to create a good marinara. And I do sometimes go to some trouble to make a fancier marinara. But most of the time I make it as easily as possible, and that is what I did here, by starting with a basic, canned tomato sauce and readily available spices. I use a sauce like this on pasta, pizzas, polenta, potatoes, and anything else that wants a flavorful tomato sauce. You could take a slightly more impressive road by using a fresh minced onion and fresh garlic instead of the dried varieties that I used here, and by scattering some fresh, chopped basil on top after the dish comes out of the oven. And to make it even easier, you could use a whole-foods, plant-based marinara that meets the requirements of your food plan.
I think that once you have made this dish–which seems complicated but really isn’t–it will become a favorite and you’ll see how easily it can be used for guests and pot-lucks with just a little dressing up. You can add fresh basil, chopped mushrooms, broccoli, cubbed butternut squash, or any other ideas you have.
Tomato-flavor pro-tip: Cooked or canned tomato products burst with tomato-y goodness when they are given a small amount of sweetener. A teaspoon of pure maple syrup, whether from Vermont, Minnesota, Canada, or even Wisconsin, per 15-oz. can of tomato sauce will take the acidic edge off and brighten up the tomato flavor. It doesn’t take much; what you are doing is accenting the inherent sweetness of the tomatoes.
For the pasta and filling:
1 box 100% whole-grain manicotti pasta (large tubular shells), about 16 shells
2 15-ounce cans light-colored beans (I used 1 can of cannellini and 1 can of navy), drained but not rinsed
1 tablespoon Bragg Liquid Aminos (BLA)
2 teaspoons granulated garlic OR 3 large cloves fresh garlic, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons granulated toasted onion, or any granulated onion
1 to 2 tablespoons Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset herb blend, or 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper or 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
a few grinds of black pepper
For the sauce (or use a 28-ounce jar of WFPB, no-oil pasta sauce):
2 15-ounce cans no-salt-added tomato sauce
1 teaspoon granulated garlic OR 1 large cloves fresh garlic, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons granulated toasted onion, or any granulated onion
1 to 2 teaspoons Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset herb blend, or 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoons Aleppo pepper or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
2 teaspoons pure maple syrup (optional)
Start the oven preheating to 325ºF/165ºC. Set a large pot of water, at least 3 quarts/liters in a 5-quart/liter pot, to boil. While you are waiting for the water to come to a boil, set a colander or large strainer in the sink and prepare the filling.
You can prepare the filling in a food processor (fastest and easiest) or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer, a potato masher, or a machacadora. The goal is to make a paste with the consistency of hummus, which can be piped into the manicotti pasta shells. Put all of the filling ingredients in the processor or bowl, and pulse or mash until it is smooth and homogeneous. Taste the filling and adjust seasonings as desired. Transfer the filling into a gallon-sized sealable bag (Ziplock-style), eliminating as much air as possible. You could also use a cake-decorating bag and tip or a small spoon and your fingers to fill the shells. Set the filling aside.
When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta, while you are standing upright and back from the pot, as the shape of this pasta lends to rapid boil ups through the tubes. Boil for 3 minutes, then drain into colander and rinse thoroughly with water as cold as will come from the tap.
Prepare the tomato sauce. Note: you can mix all of the ingredients in a bowl or pitcher, or you can mix in the maple syrup only, then sprinkle the spices and herbs evenly across the sauce at each step of the process as you layer the ingedients in the pan. One way is as effective as the other. There is no need to heat the sauce up.
Prepare a roughly 9 x 12-inch pan by coating the bottom with about a half-cup of the sauce. The sauce should be about 1/4-inch deep. Note about the baking pan: a covered pan is ideal, but if not, you need to be able to cover it pretty tightly with foil. Covering the pan is one of two things you need to do to make sure that the partially cooked pasta is fully cooked when the dish is done. The other thing you need to do is a little further along.
Using foil pro-tip: Tomato products are acidic enough to eat through foil, especially when being heated, and then the residue ends up in your food. When covering dishes that are tomato-based, tent the foil so that no part of it is touching the tomato sauce.
Fill the pasta shells with the filling. Snip a small corner off the bag and fill each shell by holding it in one hand with a finger lightly across the opposite opening (you may not even need to cover the hole at all. Fill to the end, then turn the shell around and top off the other end. Lay the filled shell in the pan. Continue filling all of the pasta shells and arranging them in the pan. They should have a little space between them to reduce sticking. If you are unable to fit all the shells in one layer, drizzle a little sauce over the shells and stack the extras in a second layer, as far as they go. Once all the shells are filled and arranged in the pan, cover the pasta with the remaining sauce, ensuring that all of the pasta has sauce over it.
Partially cooked pasta pro-tip: When using partially cooked pasta and finishing it off in the oven, you should make sure of two things: first, that the pasta is completely covered (not drowning in, just covered) with sauce, and second, that the pan is tightly covered to keep in most of the steam. In fact, if you do this, you could probably prepare this dish without pre-cooking the pasta at all. If you try this, add about 1/4 cup of water to the pan before sealing it. This will work with shells and with lasagna. As an alternative to adding water, you could add sliced or chopped raw mushrooms or courgettes, which will give off enough water to cook the pasta.
Cover the pan and pop it into the oven for an hour. Take advantage of having the oven on and roast some other veggies to eat alongside. Serve it up!