Being a fan of healthy food that mimics something much less healthy, I sometimes make vegetable lasagna — and by that I don’t mean lasagna with a vegetable based sauce, but lasagna with sliced vegetables instead of noodles. I just layer them with ricotta cheese, put on some tomato sauce, top with Parmesan cheese, and bake. In fact, sauce isn’t even needed if there are enough tomatoes in there. Zucchini, partially cooked eggplant slices, and onion are also all good.
If vegetable lasagna is a thing, why not vegetable manicotti? Celery is our food focus right now, it’s more or less the same shape as manicotti . . . Okay, okay, it’s not a closed cylinder, but you know what? It doesn’t make the dish taste any less good. You might think the ricotta would get all soaked with the sauce, but it stands up to it just as well as it does in lasagna. And the celery’s open top makes it much easier to stuff. I won’t say it tastes like pasta manicotti, but the tomato sauce and ricotta taste is there, and the celery’s flavor is subtle enough to serve as a good background for that.
Stuffed celery is familiar to most of us, of course, as a cold appetizer or snack. The stuffing in those versions is usually cream cheese or some kind of dip. Ricotta would also work in cold stuffed celery, though you’d probably want to blend in some strongly flavored ingredient (salsa?) to make it interesting enough. For a couple of way more creative variations, see these recipes for Crab-Stuffed Celery at Taste of Home and Blue Cheese and Pecan Stuffed Celery at Every Day with Rachael Ray.
Speaking of cream cheese, it’s an ingredient in something I came up with last week which I’ve started to think of as Desperation Icing. But that will have to wait till another week . . .
- 4 stalks celery
- 3 tablespoons ricotta cheese
- ½ cup tomato sauce
- Parmesan cheese for sprinkling
- Wash the celery and trim off the upper and lower ends.
- Cut stalks in half (two short pieces).
- Steam or boil for one to two minutes (microwaving is good).
- Arrange in an ovenproof dish that just holds them.
- Carefully fill each half stalk with about a teaspoon of ricotta cheese.
- Pour tomato sauce over.
- Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
- Cover (with aluminum foil if dish has no lid).
- Bake at 350℉ for 30 minutes.