Surprisingly, this baked pasta dish is both light and luscious without the dense and ultra-cheesy texture that one usually associates with lasagna and other baked pastas. Ricotta, parsley, and mozzarella with a touch of lemon to brighten it create a filling that is sensual and creamy.
Even with so few ingredients, the dish is not even close to being plain. Dress it with store-bought sauce from a jar, or make your own quick marinara sauce.
What Is Manicotti?
Manicotti is a baked stuffed pasta, and it is sometimes referred to as cannelloni. Loosely translated, the word cannelloni in Italian means big pipe, while the word manicotti means muffs or sleeves.
It might be confusing what to call it, but let’s not split hairs. Call it what you like. Manicotti or cannelloni, it is going to make your mouth water as it comes out of the oven bathed in tomato sauce and topped with oozy mozzarella.
Tips for Making Manicotti
- Undercook the shells slightly. Boil them just shy of the package recommendations for cooking time. The pasta will cook in the oven again and if the shells are overcooked, they become difficult to fill.
- Use a pastry bag or plastic bag to pipe the filling into the cooked shells. Fill one end first, turn the shell, and fill the other end. If that fails, use a narrow spoon to stuff the filling into the shells.
- Skip the shells and buy fresh pasta sheets. Cut them into 4-inch squares and boil for about 30 seconds, just to soften them and rinse them under cold water. Pipe or spoon the filling in a line down the center of each sheet and roll it into a tube. Place the tubes with the seam side down in the pan. This is probably the easiest route to take in terms of filling the pasta.
- Skip the shells and make crepes. Fill as you would the pasta sheets, placing them with the seams on the bottom in the baking pan.
- Drain the ricotta if it is runny. You can eliminate extra moisture from runny ricotta by spreading it between a few layers of paper towels and pressing to dry it. This keeps the filling from leaking out of the shells, making the baked pasta runny rather than firm.
Adding Spinach to the Filling
As mentioned above, you can use manicotti shells, pasta sheets, or crepes to make manicotti. One other popular variation is to add spinach. I recommend thawing a package of frozen chopped spinach and squeezing out as much moisture as possible in a dish towel before chopping and stirring it into the filling. That said, I personally prefer manicotti without the spinach, so the creaminess and lightness of the filling can shine through.
Make Ahead Manicotti
You can assemble the manicotti with the sauce and cheese topping and refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap and foil, for up to a day before baking.
You can also freeze manicotti, baked or unbaked for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator and bake as directed.
More Cheesy Baked Pastas
- Baked Spaghetti
- Stuffed Shells
- Cheesy Tortellini Casserole
- Vegetarian Lasagna
- Chicken Lasagna
Cook the pasta:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the manicotti and when the pot returns to a boil, cook for 8 to 9 minutes, or 1 minute fewer than the package directions.
The pasta should be just shy of al dente (very slightly underdone) since it will cook again in the oven. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water until cool enough to handle.
Make the filling:
In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, 1 cup of the mozzarella, the egg yolks, Parmesan, lemon zest, parsley, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Preheat the oven and prepare the baking dish:
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spread 1 cup of marinara sauce over the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish.
Fill the manicotti:
Spoon the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a large, round tip or a gallon-size zip-top bag. If using a plastic bag, seal the top and twist the bag so the ricotta is positioned close to one of the bottom corners. With scissors, snip the corner off of the bag. Fill the tubes, placing each one in the prepared baking dish as you fill them.
Bake the manicotti:
Pour the remaining sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Cover the top with a piece of parchment to keep the cheese from sticking and cover the baking dish with foil. Bake for 35 minutes.
Remove the foil and parchment and return the baking dish to the oven for 15 minutes, or until the cheese melts and the sauce bubbles at the edges. Let rest for 10 minutes to allow the manicotti to settle.
Serve the manicotti:
Sprinkle with parsley if you like and serve.
Baked manicotti will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge. You can also freeze manicotti, baked or unbaked for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator and bake as directed.
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