Baked Manicotti

Best Baked Manicotti

We love manicotti at our house. I’ve tried a zillion recipes, and all of them have been so-so. Until this one.

From America’s Test Kitchen, this is hands down, the best manicotti ever. I’ve been making it for months now and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to try another recipe.

The novel idea behind this recipe is the use of no-boil lasagna sheets to roll up the cheesy, creamy, delicious filling. Why is that any advantage over stuffing the hollow manicotti, you might ask?

Well, first and foremost, you get a lot more noodle to filling ratio which I love AND you aren’t cursing as you try to stuff the filling inside of the fragile, annoying hollow tubes. I’m telling you, this is the only way to go.

On top of the novelty, the flavors of the homemade tomato sauce are simple but amazing and they complement the creamy ricotta filling perfectly.

Oh, and one more thing: this freezes wonderfully well. I promise, what may seem like extra work is well, well worth it when it comes to manicotti. Remember, I’ve tried a zillion recipes. I should know.

Recipe Update (5/5/10): I make this recipe a lot and I’m finding that I use dried basil more than I do fresh (since I make this dish more during the colder months) so I noted that in the recipe. Also, many times, I have a half-batch of this divine spaghetti sauce leftover in the freezer and so instead of making the tomato sauce below (which is also delicious), I’ll make the manicotti as directed and then use my defrosted spaghetti sauce to top and it makes this meal even easier!

Best Baked Manicotti

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Ingredients:

Tomato Sauce:

  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (in juice)
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil

Cheese Filling and Pasta:

  • 3 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 4 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)
  • 8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese (about 2 cups)
  • 2 large eggs , lightly beaten
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves (or 2 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil (or 1 teaspoon dried basil)
  • 16 no-boil lasagna noodles (I use the Barilla brand – apparently they are supposed to be the most similar to homemade pasta and I love them, both in this and in lasagna)

Directions:

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Heat oil, garlic, and pepper flakes (if using) in large saucepan over medium heat until fragrant but not brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, basil and 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, 1 cup Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, eggs, salt, pepper, and herbs; set aside.
  4. To assemble, pour 1 inch boiling water into 13 by 9-inch baking dish, then add noodles one at a time. Let noodles soak until pliable, about 5 minutes, separating noodles with tip of sharp knife to prevent sticking. Remove noodles from water and place in single layer on clean kitchen towels; discard water in baking dish and dry baking dish.
  5. Spread bottom of baking dish evenly with 1 1/2 cups sauce. Using soupspoon, spread 1/4 cup cheese mixture evenly onto bottom three-quarters of each noodle (with short side facing you), leaving top quarter of noodle exposed. Roll into tube shape and arrange in baking dish seam side down. (You should be able to fit 8 manicotti in each row, allowing all 16 to fit in the dish). Top evenly with remaining sauce, making certain that pasta is completely covered.
  6. Cover manicotti with aluminum foil. Bake until bubbling, about 40 minutes, then remove foil. Sprinkle manicotti evenly with remaining 1 cup Parmesan. Bake until cheese is browned and bubbly, about 6-7 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 15 minutes before serving.
  7. The manicotti can be prepared right up until the baking step then covered with a sheet of parchment paper, wrapped in aluminum foil, and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month. (If frozen, thaw the manicotti in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.) To bake, remove the parchment, replace the aluminum foil, and increase baking time to 1 to 1 1/4 hours.
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Recipe Source: adapted from America’s Test Kitchen