Start to Finish: 90 minutes
Difficulty: Beginner to intermediate
When you bake stuffed manicotti, the moisture from the filling and the sauce hydrates the pasta, so you can assemble the dish without boiling the shells first. Using a homemade marinara sauce gives this dish a truly authentic Italian taste, but feel free to use canned sauce when you're short on time. This recipe is inspired by one from the The Dallas Morning News, while the tomato sauce recipe is adapted from one by The Kitchn.
- 1 can peeled whole plum tomatoes, diced
- 5 large cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup yellow onion, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
Manicotti and Filling
- 4 cups fresh spinach, chopped
- 2 cup cremini mushrooms, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups yellow onion, chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 4 cups ricotta cheese
- 3 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
- 1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 14 manicotti shells, uncooked
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the minced onion and cook until it turns translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the minced garlic and cook until it turns fragrant and starts to brown.
Add the can of chopped tomatoes and all the dried herbs. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.
Boil for 2 minutes and reduce the heat to medium. Cover and let the sauce simmer for 20 minutes until it thickens.
Smash the tomato pieces with the back of a wooden spoon periodically. Stir the sauce every few minutes while you prepare the manicotti and filling to keep the sauce from burning. Season with salt to taste.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until it turns translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the minced garlic, chopped spinach and mushrooms, along with the extra tablespoon of olive oil. Cook until the spinach and mushrooms soften, about 10 minutes.
Do not add any liquid at this stage and stir regularly to prevent burning. You want the moisture from the vegetables to evaporate to avoid a soupy dish after baking.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, half of the Parmesan cheese, half of the mozzarella cheese, the white wine, basil and nutmeg. Stir to mix thoroughly. The texture should be creamy and spreadable, but thick. Thin with white wine as needed.
Add the cooked spinach, onions and mushrooms and mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Filling and Baking
Scoop out 1 1/2 cups of the finished tomato sauce, and spread it evenly on the bottom of a 9-inch, non-reactive baking pan. The pan should comfortably hold all of the manicotti shells.
Using a teaspoon, fill the dry manicotti with the cheese-and-vegetable stuffing. Fill each shell as much as you can, pushing the stuffing into the center of the pasta with the handle of a spoon.
Nestle the manicotti in a row on the tomato sauce. Cover the stuffed pasta with the remaining sauce, and sprinkle the rest of the Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses on top.
Place the pan, covered in foil, in the oven on the center rack. Bake the dish for 30 minutes.
Test for doneness after 30 minutes by poking one of the shells with the tip of a sharp knife. The knife should insert easily. Check every 5 to 7 minutes until the shells are cooked through.
Remove the foil and bake the manicotti, uncovered, for 15 minutes to brown the cheese. Remove the pan from the oven, let it rest for 5 minutes, and serve.
The final browning can take place later, if you want to make your baked manicotti in advance.
Combine various pasta sauces to get creamier or more herb-heavy baked manicotti.
- Use half Alfredo sauce and half marinara sauce for a rose-colored baked manicotti.
- Add 1/2 cup of pesto to the marinara to give the sauce a strong basil taste.
The stuffing can be altered to suit your personal taste. For example, 1 pound of seasoned ground meat, such as ground beef or sausage, can be cooked and used in place of the mushrooms and spinach. Cook your filling thoroughly before mixing with the cheese.