Valentine's Day Tips - Dinner

Ideas and tips for Valentine's flowers, treats, wine, dinner and dessert. Part 4 of 5.

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If you want to make a big splash with a fancy Valentine's Day dinner that won't set you back too much in time or money, here is a one-dish idea: Manicotti pomodori e gambero, which is just a fancy way to say shrimp and tomato pasta.

But the name fits because the dish combines spaghetti squash, succulent shrimp, caramelized onions, tomatoes and fresh Parmesan with a shallot-cream sauce. It may look a little daunting, but the "wow" factor is worth the trouble.

Manicotti pomodori e gambero

  • 8 manicotti
  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus more to grate over the dish
  • 15-20 medium shrimp (41/50 count, uncooked), thawed, peeled and chopped into thirds
  • 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, sliced into thin rings
  • 2 cloves of a shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 14.5-ounce can whole tomatoes, quartered
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk, warmed in the microwave
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, warmed

Halve the squash, scoop out the seeds and bake, face down in a baking dish with 1/4-inch of water, at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, then flip the squash face up and bake another 20 minutes or so, until tender when pierced with a knife. Remove from the oven and carefully (they will be hot!) scrape the flesh out with a fork to get the spaghetti effect.

While the squash is baking, prepare the manicotti according to the instructions on the box for al dente. They become fragile if overcooked, so if you err, err on the firmer side. In a saucepan with 2 tablespoons of butter, caramelize the onions, but just until they are sweet and browned.

Mix the squash flesh with the salt, pepper, nutmeg, Parmesan and caramelized onions. Adjust the salt upward to taste.

Carefully stuff the manicotti with the mixture and arrange in a baking dish. Fill in the gaps with the inevitable leftover filling.

For the sauce, add two tablespoons of butter to the pan you used for the onions and saute the shallots. Add the flour and whisk for about a minute, then add the milk and whisk over medium heat until slightly thickened. This sauce will not be particularly thick. Whisk in the cream, then pour the sauce over the noodles.

Arrange the tomatoes on the top and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Pull the dish from the oven, grate Parmesan over the top and return to the oven for 10 minutes to finish.

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