Lenten Season’s New Orleans Seafood Manicotti with Béchamel Sauce

It’s only fitting that on this, the eleventh day of the Lenten Season, we enjoy a recipe from New Orleans. After all, you can’t get much more connected to the whole idea of Lent without the Carnival that is Mardi Gras.

New Orleans, unlike any where else in America, begins baking up King’s Cake and painting the town purple, green and gold the day after the Epiphany. The  momentum of their festive indulgent continues to build right up until Fat Tuesday. There is an explosion of color, food and merriment, and then the somber reality of the morning after. Even then, New Orleans is a city unlike any other, with a cuisine uniquely their own. Part French, part Cajun, part old world tradition. While sober and somber, the dedication to the season continues in a most delightful way. Yeah, it’s tough to think of it as sacrifice when the seafood is this delicious.

New Orleans Seafood Manicotti with Béchamel Sauce
Béchamel Sauce (White Sauce)
2 White Onions, peeled but left whole
2 FRESH Bay Leaf (DO NOT use dry)
2 cloves
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon Butter
8 tablespoons Flour
2 cups Whole Milk
2 cups Half and Half
Nutmeg to taste, about 3 or 4 pinches
Kosher Salt to taste
Black Pepper to taste
Cayenne Pepper to taste

Peel two onions, but leave whole. Secure the bay leaf to the onion using the clove and set aside. (Sounds crazy, I know, but it will make sense later).

Place the butter in a medium-sized saucepan on low medium heat and warm gently until it has melted. Measure in the flour and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until combined. This mixture is called roux.

Cook the roux for two minutes, stirring with your spoon. The roux should be bubbling and releasing steam.

Using a 4-cup measuring cup or large bowl, combine the whole milk with the half and half.

Now begin adding the milk, tablespoon by tablespoon. In the beginning, it is important to completely incorporate each tablespoon of milk before you add more. After you’ve added about 1/4 of the milk, you can add more at a time. This is just a way of making sure that you don’t get lumps in your sauce.

Once all of the milk has been added whisk briefly to smooth the sauce, lower the heat and then place the onion into the mixture.  Cook, stirring occasionally. Slowly heat the sauce until just below the boiling point, adding more milk as necessary should the sauce become too thick. You want the sauce to be thick, but still liquid enough to pour, much like a thick gravy.  The sauce will have the best flavor if allowed to simmer at least 20 minutes after adding the onion.

Remove the sauce from the heat, remove onion and stir in the seasoning until completely combined.

Note: Sauce can be used immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Reheat on low before serving.

Seafood Manicotti
12 Manicotti Pasta shells
1/2 cup Green Onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 lbs Cocktail Shrimp (41 count or smaller), peeled and deveined
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning, divided
1/2 teaspoon dried Thyme Leaves
1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
15 oz Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Egg Yolks
4 1/2 cups Béchamel Sauce, divided,
1/2 lb Lump Crabmeat
1 bunch Chives

Line a baking sheet with waxed or parchment paper; set aside.

Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente; drain. Place shells in a single layer on prepared baking sheet about 1/2-inch apart; set aside.

While the Manicotti Pasta is cooking, finely chop the green onions and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat oil. Add green onions and saute until they begin to soften. Add shrimp, 1 teaspoon Creole seasoning, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook, turning as necessary, until shrimp are cooked through and pink, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat; let cool. Once cool, transfer shrimp mixture to a large mixing bowl.

Add ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, egg yolks, 1 cup Béchamel Sauce and remaining teaspoon Creole seasoning. Fold in crabmeat.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Stuff each shell with the seafood mixture. Place stuffed shells in a large baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray. Pour remaining Béchamel Sauce over stuffed Manicotti. Bake until bubbly and top is light golden brown, 15- 20 minutes.

While the Manicotti is baking, cut a bunch of Chives into narrow strips and set aside for garnish.

When the Manicotti is ready, garnish with strips of chives, and serve serve immediately with a nice salad of spinach.

Inspired by Raised on Roux

Author: Rosemarie's Kitchen

I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and avid home cook.I believe in eating healthy whenever possible, while still managing to indulge in life's pleasures.

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