RECIPES:
Mar 10, 2022

How to Make Manicotti

Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 40 mins
Manicotti is a traditional Italian dish that uses large noodles or thin crepes (crespelle) stuffed with different kinds of cheeses.

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It’s one of my favorite comfort foods to make for a cold winter night. My recipe is for a more Italian-American style manicotti made with tubular pasta shells stuffed with ricotta and served in a tomato sauce. If you grew up in Northern New Jersey like me, you may hear it sometimes referred to as “manigot” (yes, like the Sopranos). 

I use a simple cheese filling made with a combination of three cheeses: ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan, though you can add a variety of meats or greens to the filling. “Manicotti” translates in Italian to “sleeves”. It’s actually quite easy to make at home – follow my tips below to easily stuff the pasta. 

How To Make Manicotti

tubular manicotti pasta

Key Ingredients in This Recipe

  • Pasta – The tubular manicotti pasta is cooked until just al dente and then stuffed. I recommend undercooking rather than overcooking the noodles since they will continue to cook a second time in the oven. While manicotti and cannelloni are similar, manicotti shells have ridges, are bigger in size and thicker. Cannelloni are thinner, smooth tubes. If buying boxes of dried manicotti at the store, I recommend buying two boxes. They are delicate and some may be broken before you even open the box.
  • Ricotta cheese – Ricotta is a mild, soft and creamy Italian cheese. It’s made from the leftover whey created when making mozzarella and other similar cheeses. I always choose whole milk ricotta over part-skim when cooking because the latter can be watery. I recommend draining the ricotta and patting it dry with paper towels.
  • Mozzarella – I use part-skim, also called low-moisture mozzarella, for both filling and topping the manicotti in this recipe. Fresh mozzarella has a higher water content and it becomes runny rather than gooey as it melts. 
  • Parmesan – Parmesan-Reggiano is a hard cow’s milk cheese aged for different lengths of time. I’d recommend buying a roughly cut chunk of wrapped cheese from the grocery store – it’s typically higher quality than what you get pre-grated. 
  • Eggs – Eggs act as a binding agent, helping to keep the cheese mixture together. It also gives the filling its light and fluffy texture.
  • Marinara sauce – I always prefer homemade marinara, a tomato sauce made with simple ingredients, though you can easily swap it for store bought. 
Manicotti ingredients

Instructions to Make Manicotti

Step 1: Boil manicotti
Step 1: Boil manicotti. 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the manicotti tubes and cook until al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain and run under cool water, then toss in olive oil and set aside.

Step 2: Mix filling. 
Step 2: Mix filling. 

Heat oven to 400ºF (200ºC). In a large bowl mix together the ricotta, 1 cup of mozzarella, Parmesan, parsley and basil. Season the cheese mixture with salt and pepper.

Step 3: Spread marinara in baking dish.
Step 3: Spread marinara in baking dish.

Spread 1 cup of marinara on the bottom of a 9” x 13” (22.8cm x 33cm) baking dish.

Step 4: Fill manicotti. 
Step 4: Fill manicotti. 

Either use a long spoon or a pastry bag fitted with a large top to pipe the filling into the shells. Place each shell into the baking dish in an even single layer.

Step 5: Top with sauce and cheese.
Step 5: Top with sauce and cheese.

Top with the remaining sauce followed by the rest of the mozzarella.

Step 6: Bake.
Step 6: Bake.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the cheese is melted and the pasta is tender, about 30 minutes. Bake uncovered until the cheese is browned in spots, about an additional 10 minutes. 

Let cool slightly and serve.

How to Fill Manicotti Shells

How to Fill Shells Without Breaking Them

I recommend using a long narrow spoon to stuff the manicotti to prevent breaks. If you can, use a pastry bag fitted with a large tip to easily pipe the filling. A gallon resealable plastic bag with a small portion of the edge cut off also works well. 

Substitution for Manicotti Pasta 

If you can’t find manicotti tubes, I recommend using sheets of lasagna. If you’re intimidated by stuffing the tubes, using par-boiled lasagna noodles is a great easy swap. Simply spoon the cheese filling on the short edge of the pasta and roll it up, placing it in the pan with the seam-side down. Cook the manicotti as directed below. 

How Much Filling to Use

About 3 tablespoons to ¼ cup of cheese filling is the perfect amount. 

How to Make Ahead of Time 

The manicotti can be stuffed, then arranged in disposable or freezer safe trays. Cover in sauce then seal and refrigerate or freeze until ready to serve. If cooking the dish frozen – directly from the freezer rather than thawed, simply add about 20 minutes to the cooking time. 

Other Manicotti Fillings

Meat 

Manicotti is often filled with a combination of ground beef, veal or Italian sausage (mild or hot as long as it has Italian seasoning). Sauté ½ medium yellow onion in olive oil then brown ½ pound of meat and stir together with 2 cups of ricotta. Fill as directed below. I like pairing rich, meat stuffed manicotti with a vodka or blush sauce instead of tomato sauce. 

Greens 

I love sautéing leafy greens like spinach (a popular variation) and adding it to the ricotta filling. Greens like kale or arugula can also be used. Plan on sautéing about 6 ounces of greens.

How to make manicotti

Other Recipes to Try

If you enjoy this manicotti recipe, I recommend checking out these:

How To Make Manicotti

How to make manicotti
Print Pin
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 12 manicotti tubes (8 ounce box)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • cups whole milk ricotta, drained
  • cups part-skim mozzarella, divided
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped basil leaves
  • Kosher salt, as needed
  • Freshly ground black pepper, as needed
  • cups marinara sauce

Instructions:

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the manicotti tubes and cook until al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain and run under cool water, then toss in olive oil and set aside.
  • Heat oven to 400ºF (200ºC).
  • In a large bowl mix together the ricotta, 1 cup of mozzarella, Parmesan, parsley and basil. Season the cheese mixture with salt and pepper.
  • Spread 1 cup of marinara on the bottom of a 9” x 13” (22.8cm x 33cm) baking dish.
  • Either use a long spoon or a pastry bag fitted with a large top to pipe the filling into the shells. Place each shell into the baking dish in an even single layer.
  • Top with the remaining sauce followed by the rest of the mozzarella.
  • Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the cheese is melted and the pasta is tender, about 30 minutes. Bake uncovered until the cheese is browned in spots, about an additional 10 minutes.
  • Let cool slightly and serve.

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