There is nothing more romantic than Italian food. And, of course a good glass of Chianti.
Buon cibo. Buon vino. Buon amici.
Marinara sauce: Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.Add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes and cook until onion and garlic turn lightly golden brown, about 3 minutes stirring occasionally so garlic doesn’t burn. Add tomatoes, Chianti and herbs and bring to soft boil. Reduce heat and let simmer covered for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and take lid off and cool.
White Sauce: Melt butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Which in flour and chicken bouillon. Increase heat to medium high and cook, stirring constantly until mixture starts to bubble. Whisk in half and half and bring to s soft boil whisking often. Simmer about 1 minute until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir in parsley. Set aside to cool.
Manicotti shells: Bring a large stock pot of water to a boil. Add a dash of kosher salt. Add manicotti shells and par boil softly for only 4 1/2 minutes. While shells are cooking, line a large sheet pan with parchment paper and spray with oil. When shells have simmered for 4 1/2 minutes, remove shells to colander and drain well, do not rinse. Place shells side by side without touching and cover lightly with plastic wrap to keep them from drying out.
Filling: heat olive oil in large no stick skillet over medium heat. Sauce onions until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauce for 1 minute. Then stir in ground sausage and cook until no longer pink. Season with salt and pepper. Using a slotted spoon, remove sausage from pan and transfer to a sheet pan to cool. Leaving sausage tidbits and oil in pan, reheat to medium and add spinach and sauce until slightly wilted. Remove the spinach with a slotted spoon and place beside cooked sausage. Let cool.
In a large mixing bowl, add ricotta, eggs, one cup of shredded mozzarella/parmesan, 1/2 cup parmigiana reggiano, spinach and sausage mixture. Mix with spatula to incorporate. Using a very large piping bag, fill 3/4 with sausage mixture. Snip tip large enough to be able to pipe into shells. Fill each shell completely. I pipe only 1/2 shell from one end and then pipe filling from other end. Works best. Be careful not to apply to much pressure when piping or shells will split. Keep stuffed shells on sheet pan until ready to assemble.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Layering: Using a greased 9×13 casserole dish, pour one cup of marinara sauce on bottom spreading to cover evenly. Add all stuffed shells. Add white sauce over shells and spread evenly and shells are all covered. Dot with cube butter. Add the last 1 cup of shredded mozzarella/paremsna. Add rest of the marinara sauce leaving a little white sauce visible. Cover casserole dish with heavy foil ensuring foil does not touch sauce. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove dish from oven and remove foil. Add the last of the 1/2 cup of parmigiana reggiano cheese. Place back in oven uncovered for 10 more minutes or until a nicely golden brown. Remove from oven and let stand 115-20 minutes before serving.