Classic Manicotti is a comforting classic Italian dish made with tube-shaped pasta stuffed with a mixture of ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, and herbs. Stuffed pasta shells are nestled in a baking dish and topped with homemade pasta sauce and more cheese before being baked to perfection!
Table of Contents
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, the only real difference being that it’s piped into these tube shells!
The filling is 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, so make sure to whip it up on a night that you’re really hungry! It hits the spot in the most filling and flavorful way. As much as you may want seconds, you might just be too full to go back for more.
Manicotti Pasta Shells – You should be able to find these in the pasta aisle of your local grocery store.
Pasta Sauce – of course, it’s always best to use homemade marinara sauce, but you can also use your favorite store-bought one.
Garlic – it’s best to use fresh garlic (not pre-minced) for the better overall flavor!
Cheeses – You’ll need ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella cheeses for this supremely cheesy recipe!
Ricotta cheese – use whole milk ricotta cheese for the best results.
Herbs – For the sauce, you’ll need some fresh basil and dried oregano. The filling calls for fresh basil and fresh parsley. While fresh herbs will give you the best flavor and aroma, you can substitute died when needed.
See recipe card for complete information on ingredients and quantities.
How To Make Manicotti?
Make the sauce – Sauté the vegetables first until softened. Then add the canned tomatoes, bay leaves, oregano, sugar, half the basil and salt. Stir well and cover with a lid but leave a crack for steam to escape. Cook for about 20 minutes, then add remaining basil. Stir and cook for another 20 minutes or so.
Blend the sauce – Take out the bay leaves and blend sauce in the blender until smooth. Make sure to open the little tab so the steam can escape while blending.
Make the filling – Simply gather the filling ingredients in a bowl (1) and mix until it’s all evenly incorporated.
Stuff the manicotti – Transfer the prepared filling 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 the manicotti shell pasta in one hand and squeeze the stuffing into it from the piping bag, filling it almost full (2). Don’t overfill though, or a lot of it will come out while baking!
PRO TIP: using a piping bag is the perfect way to squeeze in the filling into tube pasta like for manicotti, cannoli, or even into the pasta shells.
Assemble the manicotti – Spread about a cup and a half of pasta sauce in the baking dish. Nestle the stuffed manicotti in the sauce (3) and cover it with remaining sauce. Spread mozzarella and parmesan cheese over the top (4).
Bake the manicotti – Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake for about 30 minutes at 350°F. (If using oven ready pasta shells, bake for about 40 minutes.) Take off the foil and bake another 10 minutes.
PRO 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.
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’s 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.
You can easily make manicotti ahead of time. Follow all the steps of preparing manicotti up to the baking but instead of baking, place the covered baking pan into the refrigerator.
To bake it the next day, preheat the oven to 350°F 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.
You can store leftover manicotti in the same baking pan it was baked in. Make sure to cover it tightly! You can also transfer it into another food storage container with an airtight lid. Properly stored, cooked manicotti will last 3-5 days in the refrigerator.
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 to warm all the way through.
Oven: This method is good for reheating individual portions or the whole pan. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake at 350°F until hot throughout. Depending on how full the baking dish is, it will take about 20 minutes.
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 at 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 tightly with two layers of plastic wrap. Wrap the pan again in aluminum foil. Don’t forget to date and label!
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°F for about 40 minutes. Take off the foil and bake for another 10 minutes.
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- 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 9×13 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.
- Pasta Sauce: while it’s always best to use homemade marinara sauce, you can also use your favorite store-bought one to save time when needed.
- Make Ahead: Follow all the steps of preparing manicotti up to the baking but instead of baking, place the covered baking pan into the refrigerator. To bake it the next day, preheat the oven to 350°F 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.
- Storing, Reheating, and Freezing: there are instructions to store, reheat, and freeze the manicotti in the body of this post. Please see the post for the information!