Manicotti

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Quick Summary

Manicotti- manicotti shells are stuffed with a 3 cheese spinach filling, topped with marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, and baked until bubbly! This classic Italian dish is a dinner favorite and freezer friendly too!

manicotti with cheese and basil in pan with serving spoon.

Italian nights are always the best nights! We love making spaghetti, baked ziti, pasta primavera, spaghetti carbonara, cacio e pepe, and more!

Manicotti is always a favorite Italian dinner too. Large pasta tubes get stuffed with a rich, cheesy filling that is with ricotta cheese, spinach, mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese. Smother with marinara sauce, top with mozzarella cheese, and bake until bubbly.

Manicotti makes a great quick and easy weeknight meal but is also special enough to serve for a holiday dinner or celebration. Everyone loves this CHEESY, comforting baked pasta dish. It’s always a crowd pleaser. I highly recommend serving garlic bread and a simple salad on the side. The perfect meal!

Manicotti is a great make-ahead meal and freezer meal (see tips below). It is also a great recipe to make and take to friends or neighbors who are in need of a homemade meal. It’s classic comfort food and guaranteed to make anyone feel better.

ingredients to make manicotti.

Ingredients

  • Dried manicotti shells– find manicotti shells (pasta tubes) in the pasta aisle. I buy an 8 oz box and cook them all just in case some break. You will need 12 shells.
  • Ricotta cheese– to create a creamy, cheesy filling.
  • Egg– the egg will bind the cheese mixture together.
  • Frozen chopped spinach– thaw the spinach and squeeze it dry so there is no liquid left.
  • Mozzarella cheese– I recommend buying a block of cheese and grating it with a cheese grater. Pre-grated cheese contains preservatives to keep the shreds from clumping together in the bag and doesn’t melt as well.
  • Parmesan cheese– buy a wedge of Parmesan cheese and grate it!
  • Garlic– a must!
  • Italian seasoning– for extra flavor!
  • Crushed red pepper flakes– for a little kick!
  • Marinara sauce– you can use homemade marinara sauce or store bought. Rao’s is our favorite jarred sauce.
  • Fresh basil– for garnish!
cooked manicotti noodles cooling on rack.

How to Make Manicotti

Scroll down to recipe card for full list of ingredients and instructions!

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the manicotti shells, I always cook extra in case some break! Cook 2 minutes fewer than the package directions. Do not overcook the shells. You want them to be slightly undercooked, so they are easy to fill. They will finish cooking in the oven.
  • Use a colander to drain and rinse with cold water. Lay the shells in a single layer on a clean towel or on a cooling rack.
ricotta spinach filling in bowl to make manicotti.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, egg, spinach, 1 cup of the mozzarella, Parmesan, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper.
filling manicotti with cheese filling.
  • Use a piping bag to fill each manicotti with the cheese mixture. If you don’t have a piping bag, you can use a gallon-size freezer bag, use scissors to snip the corner of the bag. You can use a spoon, but the piping makes it much easier!
spreading marinara sauce in baking dish with spoon.
manicotti stuffed with cheese filling in baking dish with marinara sauce.
  • Arrange the stuffed manicotti in a single layer in the baking dish.
manicotti with marinara sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese in baking dish.
  • Pour the remaining marinara over the manicotti and top with the remaining mozzarella cheese.
baked manicotti with mozzarella cheese in baking dish.
  • Lightly grease a piece of foil and cover the baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until heated through and bubbly.
  • To brown the cheese, turn on the broiler and bake for 1 to 2 more minutes, keeping a close eye, until the cheese is golden.
  • Remove from the oven and garnish with fresh basil. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
manicotti in baking dish with fresh basil.

Variations

  • Use meat sauce– if you want to add meat, I recommend using the meat sauce we use to make classic spaghetti. Swap it for the marinara sauce.
  • Add vegetables– finely chopped mushrooms, zucchini, or bell peppers would be a great addition to the cheese filling. Sauté in olive oil before adding them to the cheese filling.
  • Omit the spinach– if you don’t care for spinach, you can leave it out. Or use kale instead of spinach.
  • Cottage cheese – use cottage cheese instead of ricotta cheese for a boost of protein. I recommend using whole milk cottage cheese so it’s super creamy.
  • Nutmeg– add a pinch of nutmeg to the cheese filling for a slight sweetness. A little goes a long way so make sure you only add a little bit.

Serving Suggestions

Here are a few dishes that pair nicely with Manicotti.

cheesy manicotti with marinara sauce in baking dish.

Make Ahead Tip

Manicotti is a great meal prep meal because you can prep it in advance.

  • If you are making homemade marinara sauce, you can make it ahead of time. Store in the fridge for up to 5 days and freeze for up to 3 months.
  • You can assemble the manicotti and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Keep in the fridge for up to 8 hours before baking. When ready to bake, preheat the oven and remove the plastic wrap. Cover with foil and bake. Add 10 to 15 minutes to the baking time because the dish was chilled.

How to Freeze Manicotti

  • How to Freeze Uncooked Manicotti: assemble in a freezer safe dish. Cover with plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge. When ready to bake, remove from the fridge and preheat the oven. Bake according to recipe instructions, it might take 10 to 15 additional minutes.
  • You can bake uncooked manicotti from frozen, it will just take longer. Remove the plastic wrap and then cover with the foil. Bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and manicotti is bubbly.
  • How to Freeze Baked Manicotti: Let the manicotti cool completely. You can freeze a large container of manicotti or freeze in individual portions in freezer containers or freezer bags. The individual portions are easy to reheat and great for easy lunches and dinners.
  • To reheat in the microwave (from frozen): transfer to a microwave-safe dish and microwave from frozen for approximately 5-7 minutes or until heated through.  
  • To reheat in the frozen oven : preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Transfer manicotti to an oven-safe baking dish.  Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes or until heated through.

Storing Leftovers

I always look forward to leftover manicotti. I will gladly eat it for a few meals in a row:)

  • How to Store Leftovers: let the manicotti cool completely. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • How to Reheat Leftovers: reheat individual servings in the microwave. You can also reheat the full casserole in a baking dish in a 350 degree F oven. Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes.
manicotti on plate with fork.

FAQ

What is the difference between cannelloni and manicotti?

Manicotti is the Italian-American version of cannelloni and the dishes are very similar. Manicotti is made with ridged tube pasta and cannelloni is made with pasta sheets, similar to lasagna noodles, that get spread with cheese filling (sometimes meat), and rolled into a cylindrical shape. You can buy cannelloni shells, they are smooth and don’t have ridges like manicotti. Both pastas are baked with with sauce and cheese.

What is manicotti vs stuffed shells?

Both are pasta dishes that involve stuffing pasta with a ricotta cheese filling and baking with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese. The big difference is the type of pasta that is used. Manicotti uses tube shaped pasta and stuffed shells are made with jumbo pasta shells.

Do I have to cook the shells before filling?

Yes, but make sure you don’t overcook the pasta tubes because they will finish cooking in the oven. Cook for 2 minutes fewer than the package instructions for al dente.

Should you cover manicotti when baking?

Yes, cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted on top. To brown the cheese, broil for just a few minutes at the end, just make sure you watch it closely!

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Manicotti

Manicotti shells are stuffed with a 3 cheese spinach filling, topped with marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, and baked until bubbly! This classic Italian dish is a dinner favorite and freezer friendly too!
4.67 from 9 votes

Ingredients
  

  • 12 dried manicotti shells*
  • 15 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Dash of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Pinch ground nutmeg, optional
  • 25 oz jar marinara sauce, divided (can use homemade marinara)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil, for garnish

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the manicotti shells and cook 2 minutes fewer than the package directions. Do not overcook the shells. You want them to be slightly undercooked, so they are easy to fill. They will finish cooking in the oven.
  • Use a colander to drain and rinse with cold water. Lay the shells in a single layer on a clean towel or on a cooling rack.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, egg, spinach, 1 cup of the mozzarella, Parmesan, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes.
  • Use a piping bag to fill each manicotti with the cheese mixture. If you don’t have a piping bag, you can use a gallon-size freezer bag, use scissors to snip the corner of the bag.
  • Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking dish and spread 1 cup of marinara sauce over the bottom.
  • Arrange the stuffed manicotti in a single layer in the baking dish.
  • Pour the remaining marinara over the manicotti and top with the remaining mozzarella cheese.
  • Lightly grease a piece of foil and cover the baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until heated through and bubbly.
  • To brown the cheese, turn on the broiler and bake for 1 to 2 more minutes, keeping a close eye, until the cheese is golden brown.
  • Remove from the oven and garnish with fresh basil. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Notes

I buy an 8 oz box of manicotti shells. If more than 12 are in the package go ahead and cook them all in case some of them break while boiling. You will only need 12 though.

Nutrition

Calories: 466kcal, Carbohydrates: 36g, Protein: 28g, Fat: 22g, Saturated Fat: 12g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 7g, Cholesterol: 108mg, Sodium: 984mg, Potassium: 658mg, Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 6g, Vitamin A: 4344IU, Vitamin C: 10mg, Calcium: 526mg, Iron: 3mg
Keywords manicotti, marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese

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Maria

I'm Maria and my husband is Josh. We share a love of cooking, baking, and entertaining. We enjoy creating recipes that are simple, fresh, and family friendly. We love sitting around the table with good food, good conversation, and good friends and family! Our kitchen is always open!
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  1. 5 stars
    What and easy and fun meal. My kids loved helping stuff the shells. We are always looking for easy weeknight meals and this will be added to our rotation. Thank you