Manicotti stuffed with melted cheese and smothered in marinara sauce is pure comfort food! This easy dinner recipe satisfies all the cravings.
This vegetarian stuffed cheese manicotti recipe is super easy to make and the step-by-step process photos below will guide you through the entire recipe.
Why this recipe works:
What is manicotti? This cheese manicotti is one of those easy to make, no fuss, picky-eater-approved recipes. It is simply a mixture of cheeses stuffed into pasta shells and baked with marinara sauce.
- Delicious filling: Authentic Italian manicotti recipes sometimes include meat and even vegetables like spinach, but I just chose to use three different kinds of cheese along with some herbs.
- Easy recipe: This is extra easy to make because you don't need to fully cook the pasta tubes first. Just a quick dip in boiling water makes them easy to fill. Dinner prep is done in just a few minutes.
- Make ahead: Busy week? Homemade manicotti can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for a few days or in the freezer for longer storage. Then, when you're ready to eat, simply bake it in the oven.
Exact quantities are listed in the recipe card below.
- Manicotti shells - you can find these tubes packaged in a box (to prevent crushing) at most major grocery stores
- Ricotta cheese - I always recommend whole milk
- Garlic - look for big, fresh, flavorful cloves
- Mozzarella cheese - again, always recommend whole milk
- Parmesan cheese - you can buy pre-grated, but it tastes best when you grate it yourself
- Dried Italian seasoning, fresh basil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (for a bit of heat)
- Marinara sauce - just choose your favorite
How to make manicotti:
Here is a quick summary, but full directions are in the recipe card below.
Prepare manicotti filling:
- Par cook pasta: The manicotti pasta tubes will cook only for about a minute in boiling salted water. This process softens them but keeps the pasta rigid enough to easily fill.
- Mix filling: Combine the ricotta, garlic, half the mozzarella and parmesan, eggs, seasonings and herbs in a bowl. The remaining grated cheese is saved for the top!
- Add filling to bag: This makes filling the manicotti pasta extremely easy and mess-free. Add the filling to a pastry bag or a resealable plastic bag. This step is totally optional because you can simply fill the manicotti shells with a spoon, but it is much easier to squeeze the filling into the tubes.
- Stuff manicotti: Snip the corner off the plastic bag and pipe all of the cheese filling into each pasta tube. To assemble the manicotti, you'll add some marinara sauce to the bottom of a large casserole dish. Then you'll add your stuffed manicotti tubes.
Refrigerate for later or bake:
- Add stuffed manicotti: Place the filled manicotti tubes into the casserole dish on top of the small amount of marinara sauce.
- Cover with sauce: Pour the remaining marinara sauce on top.
- Top with cheese: Cover with the remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.
- Cover with foil.
At this point, you can either store in the refrigerator or freezer if making ahead, or you can bake in a preheated oven.
Make ahead directions:
Large Italian dishes like this are my favorite to make ahead of time. It's easy to do all the prep and then store it in the refrigerator or the freezer until you're ready to bake. In fact, I think manicotti, much like lasagna, tastes even better when made ahead of time.
- If making within the next couple of days: Prepare everything as if you're going to bake it, but instead store it in the refrigerator. Just be sure to let it come close to room temperature before baking, otherwise you'll need to increase your cooking time.
- If making way ahead of time: Prepare recipe as if you were going to put it into the oven, but instead, stick it in the freezer. This is especially handy if you're cooking in bulk and want to make a bunch of freezer meals. Just be sure to thaw the manicotti fully before cooking or cooking time will need to be increased.
Recipe tips for best results:
- Cheese: For the richest, cheesiest, most delicious manicotti, use whole milk cheeses and shred the mozzarella and parmesan. You can, however, use Lowfat or nonfat cheese, as well as pre-shredded cheese.
- Serving suggestions: Whenever I make homemade manicotti, I always serve with a Kale Caesar Salad and garlic bread.
- Leftovers: Store any leftovers in an air tight container in the refrigerator. To reheat, microwave at 50% power in one minute increments or cover tightly and reheat in the oven. My kids love reheated manicotti packed in a thermos for their school lunch.
- Recipe variations:
- Add meat: Italian sausage tastes great in manicotti. To make this recipe with meat, cook up to a pound of bulk Italian sausage in a skillet until browned and crumbly. Add the cooked sausage to the filling before stuffing the pasta.
- Add vegetables: Fresh spinach can be finely chopped and added to the filling. When serving heavy Italian meals like this, I always love to roast vegetables like eggplant, red onion, mushrooms, etc. on a separate baking sheet and serve alongside the main dish.
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If you’ve made this or any other recipe on my site, let me know in the comment section how it turned out. I love hearing from my readers!
- 5 ½ ounces manicotti pasta
- 1 pint whole milk ricotta cheese
- 4 cloves garlic (minced)
- 16 ounces mozzarella cheese (shredded and divided in half)
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese (grated and divided in half)
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
- 8 leaves fresh basil (sliced into thin ribbons)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 28 ounces marinara sauce
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Par boil manicotti: Boil a large pot of salted water and cook manicotti for only a minute. Drain. The goal is to soften the pasta and start the cooking process, but the pasta needs to still be extremely firm in order to stuff. The pasta will finish cooking in the oven.
- Prepare cheese filling: In a large bowl, combine ricotta, garlic, half of the mozzarella, half of the Parmesan, eggs, Italian seasoning, basil, salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes. Mix well. Add to large resealable plastic bag.
- Prepare manicotti: Add about ½ cup of the sauce to the bottom of an 11x17 baking dish. Snip the corner off the bag containing the cheese filling and pipe it into each manicotti tube. Arrange each tube in the pan on the sauce. Pour remaining sauce on top and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover with foil.
- Bake: Place manicotti in preheated oven and bake, covered, for about 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue cooking until cheese is melted, about 15 additional minutes.
This recipe was originally published in June 2019 and has been updated with helpful information, ingredient and process photos, as well as recipe tips. Don't worry - the recipe hasn't changed!