Baked Manicotti

Whoever came up with the idea of stuffing something inside of something else is a straight up genius.

Vertical close-up image of a plate topped with three cooked pasta tubes stuffed with cheese and topped with marinara and herbs on a green napkin, with text on the top and bottom of the image.

Case and point: Twinkies, mozzarella sticks, jelly donuts, and eclairs.

Hey, I didn’t say we were talking health food here. The list goes on and on, and I personally am elated every single time I bite into a food and find a surprise inside.

This stuffed manicotti isn’t exactly an unexpected curveball because, well, for one thing, you’re probably the one who stuffed it. But also, the noodles are visibly open on both ends, so you can see the cheese oozing out from the get-go.

I don’t know about you, but I am totally okay with the phrase “cheese oozing out from the get-go.”

As I licked every last smear of ricotta from my plate (and elbows – seriously, it’s a miracle I’m allowed out in public), I wondered about the origin of manicotti. I knew it wasn’t a traditional North Dakota dish or anything (it’s Italian, duh), but I wanted to dig deeper.

Vertical image of a rectangular metal pan filled with a casserole covered in tomato sauce, melted cheese, and fresh herbs on a white table with a green napkin.

Not too deep, though. I was really full.

So, here it is.

Manicotti is the plural form of the Italian word manicotto, which translates directly to English as “little sleeve.” The original version actually uses a crepe (not pasta) to enclose the goodies inside.

The roots are Italian-American, and it’s broken down as simply as this: large, ridged pasta tubes that are stuffed to their hearts’ content and then baked. The fillings can consist of a variety of ingredients, from ricotta and spinach to ground meat.

The noodles can be topped with a red sauce, bechamel, or a combination of the two.

I wanted to keep my baked manicotti fairly traditional, but with a few elevated twists. Although I adore the overwhelming ooey-gooeyness of lasagna, I didn’t want to completely conceal the tubes under a quilt of cheese, so I turned to my good friend, fresh mozzarella.

Vertical image of a round green plate on a green napkin with stuffed shells in marinara sauce next to a casserole dish and a purple bowl with grated parmesan.

Not only does it provide a lighter, silkier texture (compared to regular store-bought shredded mozzarella), but the way the roughly chopped cheese melts over the noodles makes for a stunning presentation when the dish is lifted from the oven.

My cats totally applauded.

The creamy filling is a lush blend of ricotta, sharp and salty parmesan, and fresh herbs. Eggs keep things fluffy and rich, while also helping to bind the ingredients.

Though I’m as much of a bechamel fan as the next Julia Child enthusiast, the acidity of a simple marinara really cuts through the fattiness of that dreamy ricotta mixture.

And speaking of things that are dreamy, I’m a sucker for finishing a dish with a good quality extra-virgin olive oil.

Vertical close-up top-down image of a plate with stuffed shells topped with marinara, grated parmesan, and fresh herbs.

It adds an attractive sheen and a bright, fruity flavor. Practically any cheesy creation I pop into the oven (flatbreads, pasta dishes, and so on) gets a quick drizzle before going in, as well as after it’s settled on the plate.

Lightly showering a cheesy dish with oil before it goes into the oven makes it twice as bubbly, voluptuous, and luscious.

Yes, we’re still talking about pasta. It’s hard to explain.

Just do it. Trust me. I’m a doctor…

… of cheese.

Print
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Horizontal image of a rectangular metal baking dish filled with a casserole completely covered in tomato sauce, herbs, and melted mozzarella.

Baked Manicotti


  • Author: Fanny Slater
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x

Description

When you need to stuff your face, this baked manicotti oozing with creamy ricotta, parmesan, and garlic will soothe your hunger pains.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 8-ounce box manicotti shells 
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 cups whole milk ricotta
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups store-bought or homemade marinara
  • 2 ounces fresh mozzarella, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9-by-13-inch baking or casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large pot over high heat, bring about 6 quarts of water to a boil, and then season with a generous handful of salt. Add the manicotti and cook for 4 minutes. You want the noodles to be soft enough that you can gently squeeze them open, but still firm enough to stuff and hold their shape.
  3. Once cooked, drain the pasta and set aside on a lightly oiled large plate in a single layer.
  4. In a small skillet over medium-low heat, add the butter and swirl to coat the pan. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute, stirring often, until the garlic has softened, about 1 minute. Remove the skillet from the heat. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, add the garlic-butter mixture, ricotta, 1/2 cup of the parmesan, eggs, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, 2 tablespoons of the basil, salt, and pepper. Stir until the mixture is thoroughly combined.
  6. Spread 1/2 cup of the marinara in the bottom of the greased baking dish.
  7. Spoon the ricotta into a resealable gallon-size plastic bag. Seal the bag, and snip off one of the bottom corners with scissors to make a 1/2-inch opening. 
  8. Gently squeeze one of the manicotti tubes so that it opens. Starting on one end, pipe in the cheese filling until the tube is about half full. Turn the tube around and pipe the mixture into the other end until fully stuffed. Place the stuffed manicotti in the baking dish.
  9. Continue stuffing the remaining manicotti tubes, and arrange them in a single layer in the baking dish. Pour the remaining marinara over the top, covering everything with sauce. 
  10. Dot the dish with the fresh mozzarella, sprinkle with 1/4 cup parmesan, season with a pinch each of salt and pepper, and drizzle with the olive oil.
  11. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until the mozzarella is bubbly, about 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven.
  12. Let the baked manicotti stand for several minutes before serving, and then garnish with the remaining parmesan, parsley, and basil. Serve hot with crusty bread and a simple mixed greens salad.

  • Category: Manicotti
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: Pasta

Keywords: manicotti, pasta, casserole, comfort food, marinara, mozzarella, ricotta

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Par-Boil the Noodles and Mince the Garlic and Herbs

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9-by-13-inch baking or casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Horizontal image of cooked pasta tubes in a pot of hot water.

In a large pot over high heat, bring about 6 quarts of water to a boil and then season with a generous handful of salt. This is the only chance you have to season the pasta, so you want the water to be heavily salted.

Add the pasta and cook for 4 minutes. You want the noodles to be soft enough that you can gently squeeze them open, but still firm enough to stuff and hold their shape.

Horizontal image of minced garlic and herbs on a wooden cutting board.

Once cooked, drain the pasta and set aside on a lightly oiled large plate or baking sheet in a single layer. This will help prevent sticking.

Mince the garlic, and chop the parsley and basil.

Step 2 – Saute the Garlic and Make the Ricotta Mixture

In a small skillet over medium-low heat, add the unsalted butter and swirl to coat the pan. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute, stirring often, until the garlic has softened, about 1 minute. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.

Horizontal image of cooking minced garlic in oil in a pan.

Don’t add the other ingredients if the butter mixture is still hot! If the butter is too hot, it will scramble the delicate eggs. Definitely let the mixture cool down first.

Horizontal image of a ricotta and herb mixture in a metal bowl being stirred by a spoon.

In a large mixing bowl, add the garlic-butter mixture, ricotta, 1/2 cup of the parmesan, eggs, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, 2 tablespoons of the basil, the salt, and the pepper. Stir until the mixture is thoroughly combined.

Step 3 – Stuff the Manicotti

Spread 1/2 cup of the marinara in the bottom of the greased baking dish.

Spoon the ricotta into a resealable gallon-size plastic bag. Seal the bag, and snip off one of the bottom corners with scissors to create a 1/2-inch opening. Make sure you don’t overstuff the bag, or things will get messy. I suggest only filling the bag halfway, and refilling as needed.

Horizontal image of hands filling hollow pasta shells with a ricotta mixture next to a pan spread with tomato sauce on the bottom.

For this step, you can also use a piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip.

Gently squeeze one of the manicotti tubes so that it opens. Starting on one end, pipe in the cheese filling until the tube is about half full. Turn the tube around and pipe the mixture into the other end until it is fully stuffed. Place the stuffed tube in the baking dish.

Continue stuffing the remaining tubes and arrange them in a single layer in the baking dish. It’s okay if they’re squeezed close together – it’s a casserole, after all!

Step 4 – Add the Marinara and Cheeses and Bake

Horizontal image of pouring a chunky tomato sauce over prepared manicotti in a baking pan.

Pour the remaining marinara over the top, making sure that everything is covered in sauce. Dot the dish with the fresh mozzarella, sprinkle with 1/4 cup parmesan, season with a pinch each of salt and pepper (we love freshly ground!), and drizzle with the olive oil.

Horizontal image of an unbaked casserole covered with marinara and assorted cheeses in a pan.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook until the mozzarella is bubbly, about 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven.

Step 5 – Allow the Casserole to Settle, then Serve

Let the baked dish stand for several minutes before serving. Otherwise, the cheese will be too hot and the filling will slide out. Garnish with the remaining parmesan, parsley, and basil.

Horizontal image of a rectangular metal baking dish filled with a casserole completely covered in tomato sauce, herbs, and melted mozzarella.

Serve hot, with crusty bread and a simple mixed greens salad.

One Memorable Manicotti

If you reached for that store-bought sauce, no judgement here. There’s nothing like a time-saver, but if you can plan ahead, a scratch-made marinara enhances this manicotti like no one’s business.

To amp up the protein, toss cooked  ground beef and sausage in with the red sauce. To get your veg on, blanch and chop whatever greens are in your produce drawer (like spinach, chard, or kale) for a hit of nutrients.

Horizontal image of a baking pan filled with a saucy pasta dish next to a plate of the same recipe on a green napkin.

There’s nothing more satisfying than warm, cheesy pasta. Once you polish off this memorable manicotti, try these other comforting, carby concoctions next:

Fragrant parsley and basil made their way into my ricotta-parmesan blend, but feel free to tinker with your herbs.

Rosemary? Fried sage? What would you use to complement this cheesy filling? Share your green go-to’s in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.

Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on October 18, 2010. Last updated on December 2, 2020.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

About Fanny Slater

Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”

1 thought on “Baked Manicotti”

  1. You prepared the recipe in a very good way. We hope you will continue to give us such recipes in the future. Thank you so much for enriching our home-cooked meals.

    Reply

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