Manicotti stuffed with melted cheese and smothered in marinara sauce is pure comfort food! This easy dinner recipe satisfies all the cravings.
This cheesy vegetarian manicotti recipe really is super easy to make. Different than my homemade pasta which takes a fair amount of time and effort, this simple Italian dinner recipe looks and tastes authentic but is so simple! I always love to serve Italian food with a homemade ceasar salad.
BEST MANICOTTI RECIPE
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I make Italian food a lot in our house. Mostly, it's an excuse for me to enjoy a nice glass of red wine with dinner, but it's also the kind of food that everyone loves.
This cheese manicotti is one of those easy to make, no fuss, picky-eater-approved recipes. The fillings for stuffed manicotti sometimes include meat and spinach, but I just chose to use three different kinds of cheese along with some herbs.
Where did Manicotti come from?
The literal meaning of manicotti is sleeves. Makes sense.
According to wikipedia:
Manicotti, meaning "muff", or, literally, "little sleeve" or "little shirtsleeve", is an Italian American kind of pasta. It also means "cooked hands", referring to hands being burnt when making the crepes traditionally used to create this dish.
Manicotti pasta consists of very large pasta tubes, usually ridged, that are intended to be stuffed and baked. The filling is generally ricotta cheese mixed with cooked chopped spinach, and possibly ground meat.
I made mine nice and simple, however, and just stuffed them with all kinds of cheesy goodness and smothered them with marinara sauce.
Manicotti recipe ingredients:
- 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
Do you cook manicotti shells before stuffing them?
Funny story. I used to make Manicotti all the time when I was a kid. But back then, I would boil the manicotti as if I was going to put them in a bowl and eat them. Then, when it was time to stuff them, they had all collapsed and were stuck to one another.
It wasn't until I was a full on adult that I realized you do not have to cook manicotti shells before stuffing them. The moisture from the marinara sauce completes the cooking process in the oven.
Now, some people stuff the shells completely dry. I like to give them a head start by dropping them in boiling water. I only cook them for about a minute and then drain the water off. This softens them just a bit, but they are still firm enough to easily stuff.
How to make Manicotti:
- First step is to par cook the shells as detailed above. You just want to barely soften then.
- Next you'll mix together the ricotta, garlic, mozzarella, parmesan, eggs, seasonings and herbs in a bowl. Be sure to save some of that grated cheese for the top!
- 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.
- 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. Finally you'll top with the remaining sauce and grated cheese.
- Be sure to cover your manicotti tightly prior to cooking. This will prevent it from drying out and will help cook the pasta shells. I like to remove the foil at the very end to make all the cheese super melty.
Two ways to make Manicotti ahead of time:
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, taste even better when made ahead of time.
- If you're planning on making Manicotti within the next couple of days, you can 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 you're making your manicotti way ahead of time, prepare it 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.
- 5 1/2 ounces manicotti pasta
- 1 pint whole milk ricotta cheese
- 4 cloves garlic (minced)
- 16 ounces mozzarella cheese (shredded)
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese (grated)
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
- 8 leaves fresh basil (sliced into thin ribbons)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 28 ounces marinara sauce
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Boil a pot of water and cook manicotti for only a minute. Drain. You basically want to soften them and start the cooking process, but they still need to be extremely firm in order to stuff. They will continue cooking in the oven.
- 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.
- Add about 1/2 cup of the sauce to the bottom of an 11x17 baking dish. Snip the corner off the bag with 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 in preheated oven covered for about 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue cooking until cheese is melted, about 15 additional minutes.
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