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In culinary terms, manicotti are tubes for the cook to fill.

MANICOTTI IS ITALIAN for muffs--those puffy, fur-covered, silk-lined tubes that ladies once stuffed their hands into to keep them warm while riding in a carriage or touring car. The oldest of us may remember that our mothers or grandmothers had them, and opera lovers will remember that Mimi's last wish in La Boheme was for a manicotto to warn her hands.

Culinary manicotti are neither fur-covered nor silk-lined, but they are tubes into which the cook may stuff a wide variety of fillings. Manicotti may be smooth or ridged; there is no difference in flavor, but some people think that the ridged kind will hold more sauce.

Barry Schoenfeld uses a spinach-ricotta stuffing, perked up with a bit of feta cheese. For convenience, he uses a prepared Italian-style pasta sauce. There are many on the market now, and they are quite good, but if you are the sort of cook who likes to listen to the rustic music of bubbles bursting in a long-simmered pot of sauce, feel free to make you own.

Stuffed Manicotti

alla Fiorentina

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large (8 oz.) onion, chopped

1 medium-size (about 6 oz.) red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped

3/4 cup (about 5 oz.) packed feta cheese, crumbled

1 cup (1/2 lb.) ricotta cheese

1/2 pound spinach, stems and wilted leaves discarded; rinse leaves well, drain, and finely chop

Freshly ground pepper

1 jar (30 oz.) Italian-style pasta sauce

1 package (8 oz.) large dry manicotti

1 large (8 to 10 oz.) firmripe tomato, cored, seeded, and chopped

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan over medium heat, combine oil, onion, and bell pepper; stir often until vegetables are limp, about 10 minutes. Let cool.

In a bowl, stir together feta, ricotta, spinach, and onion mixture; season to taste with pepper.

Spoon about 1.2 the pasta sauce into a 9- by 13-inch pan. Divide spinach mixture in equal portions to match the number of manicotti pieces. One at a time, rinse manicotti with cool water, shake off excess moisture, and push a portion of the spinach mixture into center of pasta with your fingers.

Lay stuffed pasta in a single layer in source; spoon remaining sauce over pasta. Cover and bake in a 400 [degrees] oven for 45 minutes; uncover and continue baking until pasta is tender when pierced, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with tomato, then cheese. Serves 6.

Per serving: 450 cal.; 18 g protein; 21 g fat (8.7 g sat.); 51 g carbo.; 1,272 mg sodium; 43 mg chol.

SO MANY FLAVORS, SO FEW words to describe them--that is the food writer's curse. Worse, these few words are used so often that they grate on the mind. Let's forget zesty and tangy and look for a new word to describe Rachel Craven's cocktail. One that comes to mind is grateful, an old-fashioned word that could stand reviving. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "pleasing to the mind or the senses, agreeable, acceptable, welcome."

Grateful was once used to convey a sense of refreshment in warm weather or after exertion: shade is grateful after a hike through the desert; a glass of cold cider is grateful during a break in the afternoon's threshing. And Rachel's Cocktail, combining the proverbial coolness of cucumber and mint with the wakeup sharpness of grapefruit, is grateful, sharpening the palate before a meal or refreshing it between courses.

Rachel's Cocktail

1 large (about 12 oz.) cucumber

3 medium-size (about 1 lb. each) grapefruit

2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves

Fresh mint sprigs

Peel and dice cucumber place in a medium-size bowl.

Cut off all peel and white membrane from grapefruit. Holding grapefruit over the bowl to catch the juice, cut between membranes to remove sections; add to cucumber. Squeeze juice from membrane into bowl; discard membrane. Stri in minced mint. Cover and chill until cold, about 1 1/2 hours, or up to 4 hours.

Spoon fruit mixture into 5 or 6 stemmed glasses; drizzle with juices. Garnish with mint sprigs. Serves 5 or 6.

Per serving: 43 cal.; 1 g protein; 0.2 g fat (0 g sat.); 11 g carbo.; 2.9 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

FISH FILLETS ANOINTED with butter and lemon juice; scented with savory, shallots, and parsley; and sealed to bake to moist opacity need little or no further flavor enhancement.

Without breading and frying, they do have, however, a deplorably naked look that calls out for clothing, or at least adornment. The trick is to furnish this touch without obscuring the delicate flavor of the fish.

James Kircher's solution? He dresses his fish in a mushroom sauce with white wine, chicken broth, and a whiff of Beau Monde seasoning. It qualifies him for a chef's toque and the honorary degree of saucier's apprentice.

Baked Fish with

Mushroom Sauce

2 pounds boned and skinned white-flesh fish such as Chilean sea bass, lingcod, or halibut, cut 1 inch thick

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots

1 teaspoon dried summer savory

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

4 teaspoons butter or margarine

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced

About 1/3 cup each regular-strength chicken broth and dry white wine

1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water

1 teaspoon Beau Monde seasoning powder or dried thyme leaves

Rinse fish and part dry; arrange in a single layer in a 9- to 10-inch-square pan. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper, then evenly top with shallots, savory, and parsley. Cut 2 teaspoons butter into small pieces and scatter on top of fish. Drizzle with lemon juice and seal pan with foil. Bake in a 350 [degrees] oven until fish is opaque and moist-looking in thickest part (cut to test), about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt remaining 2 teaspoons butter in a 10- to 12-inch frying pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms and stir often until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spatula, lift fish to a warm serving platter; keep warm. Pour fish juices into a glass measure and add equal parts of broth and wine to make 1 cup total. Smoothly stir corn-starch mixture and Beau Monde into broth mixture. Return to pan and stir over high heat until sauce boils. Serve fish with sauce to add to taste. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 298 cal.; 43 g protein; 8.8 g fat (3.6 g sat.); 6.3 g carbo.; 392 mg sodium; 103 mg chol.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Dec 1, 1991
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