Manicotti is a comforting classic Italian dish made with tube-shaped pasta stuffed with a mixture of ricotta cheese, Mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, and herbs. Stuffed pasta shells are nestled in and topped with homemade pasta sauce and covered with even more mozzarella and Parmesan cheese on top. It’s a heartwarming dinner that the whole family will enjoy and perfect for holidays and weekend dinners. You can easily prepare it ahead of time or even freeze it for an easy weeknight dinner.
WHAT IS MANICOTTI
Manicotti is an Italian-American dish that originated from the classic Italian cannelloni. Manicotti is named after the shape of pasta used for this dish, which means “little muffs” or “little sleeves” in Italian. This pasta is tube-shaped and usually about 4 inches in length with ridged edges. Stuffing for manicotti is very similar to one in ravioli and stuffed shells.
It’s a creamy, cheesy combination of whole milk ricotta cheese, Mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, egg, and herbs. These stuffed pasta tubes taste amazing baked in homemade pasta sauce and more cheeses on top. This dish is the epitome of comfort food.
Wondering what is the difference between cannelloni and manicotti? It all comes down to the pasta. Cannelloni is traditionally prepared with thin sheets of fresh pasta (or crepe) that is rolled with filling to form a tube. It is generally longer than manicotti and can be stuffed with a wide variety of fillings, like ricotta, beef, seafood, and vegetables. Sauces also vary from tomato based to creamy ones.
HOW TO MAKE MANICOTTI
For the best tasting manicotti, go with homemade pasta sauce. It’s easy to make, tastes so much better that any store brand, and you can always make it ahead of time. You can prepare a batch of sauce even a couple of days before and store it in a glass jar with a lid, in the refrigerator.
To make the sauce, saute vegetables first until softened and then, add canned tomatoes, bay leaves, oregano, sugar, half the basil and salt. Stir well, cover with a lid but leave a crack for steam to escape. Cook for about 20 minutes and add remaining basil. Stir and cook for another 20 minutes or so.
Take out and discard bay leaves and blend sauce in the blender until smooth. (Make sure to open the little tab so the steam can escape while blending.)
Can I Use Oven Ready Manicotti Shells?
I’ve had a lot of success and also a lot of failure using oven-ready pasta shells for manicotti. With lasagna, I almost always use oven ready because it’s easier and I know that every part of pasta will be covered with sauce. When it comes to manicotti, unless you can get every little part submerged in sauce, you will have hard and chewy pieces of pasta.
Shape of manicotti pasta is uneven so you often have pieces that are not covered in sauce. That’s why I recommend using regular manicotti shells and par-boiling them for 5-6 minutes before stuffing.
Manicotti stuffing is made with whole milk ricotta, Mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, eggs, basil, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper. To make it, all you have to do is gather the ingredients in a bowl and mix it until all evenly incorporated.
How To Stuff Manicotti:
The easiest way to stuff manicotti is to transfer the prepared stuffing into a large piping bag (I use 16 oz piping bag.) Tie the opening of the bag with a produce rubber band and cut off the tip when ready to stuff into pasta.
Hold manicotti shell pasta in one hand and squeeze the stuffing into it from the piping bag, filling it almost full. Don’t overfill though or a lot of it will come out while baking.
Spread about a cup and a half of pasta sauce in the baking dish and preheat the oven to 350°.
Nestle stuffed manicotti in the sauce and cover it with remaining sauce. Spread mozzarella and Parmesan cheese over the top, cover the pan tightly with foil, and bake for about 30 minutes. (If using oven ready pasta shells, bake for about 40 minutes.) Take off the foil and bake another 10 minutes.
TIP: spray one side of foil with non-stick cooking spray, the side that will be facing down, so that the cheese doesn’t stick to the foil.
How to Make it Ahead of Time:
You can easily make manicotti ahead of time. Follow all the steps of preparing manicotti up to the baking but instead of baking, place covered baking pan into the refrigerator.
To bake it the next day, preheat the oven to 350° and let the pan warm up a little on the counter while the oven is preheating. Bake for about 40 minutes with foil on top, take off the foil, and bake for another 10 minutes.
HOW TO STORE:
You can store leftover manicotti in the same baking pan it was baked in but make sure to cover it tightly. You can also transfer it into another food storage container with a air-tight lid. Properly stored, cooked manicotti will last 3-5 days in the refrigerator.
How to Reheat Manicotti:
Microwave: this method is best for reheating individual servings of manicotti. Place one to three pieces on a microwave-safe place, cover it with another bowl turned upside down or a microwave lid, and reheat. Depending on how many pieces you are reheating, it will take 1-2 minutes.
Oven: this method is good for reheating individual portions or the whole pan. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake at 350° until hot throughout. Depending on how full the baking dish is, it will take about 20 minutes.
CAN I FREEZE MANICOTTI?
Yes, you can! It’s best to freeze manicotti before baking and in an aluminum baking pan. You can even divide this recipe into two or three smaller portions to thaw and bake and different times.
Prepare manicotti according to the recipe all the way to the baking step but assemble it in an aluminum baking pan (Or in two or three separate aluminum baking pans). Wrap the whole pan with two layers of plastic wrap, make it air-tight. Wrap the pan again in aluminum foil. Make sure to label with name of dish and date.
Manicotti can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw it overnight or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.
To make it after freezing, make sure to take off the foil and the plastic wrap. Cover the pan with foil on top and bake at 350° for about 40 minutes. Take off the foil and bake for another 10 minutes.
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Classic Manicotti Recipe
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 Vidalia onion
- 2 medium carrots
- 5-6 garlic cloves
- 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1/4 cup minced fresh basil
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp white granulated sugar
- 2 bay leaves
- salt to taste
- 8 oz manicotti pasta shells
- 20 oz whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 egg whisked
- 4 garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp minced fresh basil
- 1 tbsp minced fresh parsley
- 1 tsp salt more or less to taste
- 1/2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese for topping
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese for topping
- Preheat a Dutch oven over medium heat and add olive oil. Saute diced onions, carrots, and garlic first until softened. Add canned tomatoes, bay leaves, oregano, sugar, and salt.
- Stir well, cover with a lid but leave a crack for steam to escape. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add basil, stir, and cook for another 20 minutes or so.
- Take out and discard bay leaves and blend sauce in the blender until smooth. (Make sure to open the little tab so the steam can escape while blending.)
- NOTE: you may have about a cup of sauce leftover. Store it in a glass container with a lid, in the refrigerator.
Manicotti Pasta Shells:
- Bring a pot of water to boil and salt it. Cook pasta in salted boiling water for 6 minutes, drain off water, and set pasta shells aside on a clean cutting board to cool down.
- Spread about a cup and a half of marinara sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. Set aside.
- Combine all ingredients for the stuffing in a mixing bowl and mix until evenly incorporated.
- Transfer prepared stuffing into a large piping bag (I use 16 oz piping bag.) Tie the opening of the bag with a produce rubber band and cut off the tip when ready to stuff pasta tubes.
- Hold manicotti shell in one hand and squeeze the stuffing into it from the piping bag, filling it almost full. Don’t overfill though or a lot of it will come out while baking.
- Nestle stuffed manicotti in the sauce. Repeat with all the manicotti pasta shells.
- Spread more marinara sauce over the top of all the filled manicotti.
- Spread mozzarella and Parmesan cheese over the top.
- Preheat the oven to 350° and lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish.
- Spray one side of foil with non-stick cooking spray, the side that will be facing down, so that the cheese doesn’t stick to the foil. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil.
- Bake for about 30 minutes. Take off the foil and bake another 10 minutes.