Now I have a new favorite to add to the list – Crab and Spinach Manicotti with a Sweet Corn Bechamel. I got the idea for the sweet corn bechamel from Ole Mexican Grill , a great upscale Mexican restaurant in Cambridge, MA . The inspiration was the sweet corn puree they serve with their Chilaquiles Vegetarianos. I knew it would echo the sweetness in the manicotti’s crab filling nicely and add richness and body to the bechamel without adding a lot of extra fat. And I loved the result. Sweet and meaty hits of crab, richness from the bechamel and ricotta, and a little freshness from the spinach and basil – I was in heaven. The only thing I want to do next time is up the corn flavor even more. I was cautious in this recipe since crab can be easily overpowered, but next time would try adding more to the bechamel as well as whole kernels in the filling. You could even replace the crab with corn to make for a vegetarian main dish or chopped cooked shrimp for a more affordable alternative.
I will also note that I shelled crab claws (I used Jonah Crab ) myself to use in this recipe. Whole Foods was running a sale on them and I thought it might be more cost effective than buying lump crab meat in a container. Sadly, it was not. Even with the sale price it averaged out to be about the same when I weighed out the cleaned meat. And because I lack crab cleaning expertise, my pieces were definitely smaller than what you would find in the container. Lesson learned. Next time I will definitely save myself the effort and buy it pre-shelled and cleaned.
Crab and Spinach Manicotti with a Sweet Corn Bechamel Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
-1 box (8 ounces) cannelloni or manicotti pasta (about 12 shells)
-1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese, hand-dipped if possible
-3/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling
-8 ounces lump crab meat
-1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
-1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed of excess moisture
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes, or amount of time recommended on package. Drain pasta.
In a large bowl, mix together ricotta, 3/4 cup Parmesan, egg, basil, crab, spinach, salt, and pepper.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Fill the manicotti with the crab mixture and place in a baking dish greased with butter or cooking spray.
Prepare the Sweet Corn Bechamel. Puree milk and corn kernels together in a blender. Strain through a sieve and set aside. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk mixture, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thick, smooth, and creamy, about 10 minutes (do not allow the sauce to boil). Remove from the heat and stir in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Top the filled manicotti with the Bechamel Sauce and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake until bubbly and the top is golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve immediately.