Manicotti has always been one of my favorite dishes. Not only is it delicious, filling, and comforting, but after the initial work of assembling the dish, it’s so easy. It also freezes really well, so you can always make a double batch and store one in the freezer for a busy night. The only problem that I have with traditional manicotti, is that it can get somewhat boring after a while. So last week, I wanted manicotti for dinner – but I wanted a “jazzed up” version; I wanted all of the delicious comfort that this dish offers, but I wanted it with an exciting, different twist. And so that is how this broccoli stuffed, cheesy, zesty manicotti dish was created! It is a truly delicious version – with all of the familiarity of traditional manicotti paired with some unique and fresh flavors. If you don’t want this too spicy, be sure to remove the seeds from the jalapenos before adding them to the sauce.

8 large manicotti shells (preferably whole wheat, if you can find them)

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped red or green bell pepper

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons chopped jalapeño peppers

1 3/4 cups skim milk, divided

4 teaspoons cornstarch

3/4 cup shredded reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese

1 package (16 ounces) frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and well drained

1 carton (15 ounces) low-fat ricotta cheese, drained

2 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Cook the manicotti shells according to the package directions; drain, rinse under cold water, and drain again. Set noodles aside.

While the noodles are cooking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat a 13 X 9 inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Spray a medium saucepan with cooking spray, and add the onion, bell pepper, garlic and jalapeño peppers; cook (stirring frequently) over medium heat for about 3 minutes (or until vegetables are just tender). Add 1 1/2 cups of the skim milk and bring the saucepan to a boil over high heat. Combine the remaining 1/4 cup milk and the cornstarch in a small bowl until smooth, then stir this mixture into the milk mixture in the saucepan. Cook (stirring constantly) over medium heat while the mixture boils and thickens. Once the mixture is fairly thick, add the Monterey Jack cheese and stir until the cheese fully melts.

Press out any excess liquid from the broccoli and combine it with the ricotta cheese, egg whites, ground red pepper and black pepper in a medium bowl. Spoon a scant 1/3 cup of the broccoli mixture into each manicotti shell and place them seam side down in the prepared baking dish. Pour the sauce over the filled shells, cover the dish with foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until heated through.

Makes 4 servings (2 shells per serving). Per Serving: 348 calories, 5 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 44 g carbohydrates, 8 g fiber, 0 g added sugar, 36 g protein, 302 mg sodium, 28 mg cholesterol

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