I recently made a lovely batch of creamy smooth ricotta cheese that I wanted to use in a baked pasta dish. I make lasagna and cannelloni all the time so I thought I’d try something a little different and picked up a package of manicotti noodles at my local grocery store. Manicotti are similar to cannelloni in that they are both stuffed tubes of pasta enclosing some type of filling that you top with a sauce and bake. Manicotti are a dried pasta tube however, while cannelloni are fresh pasta sheets that are rolled into a tube around the stuffing. I haven’t made manicotti for years, as I personally prefer my fresh pasta cannelloni, but I decided it was time to give manicotti a try once again.
Spinach and ricotta work well as a filling for any pasta, and filling the tubes is quite easy to accomplish. This is another good option for entertaining as you can prepare the pasta up to the point where it goes into the oven earlier in the day, and then simply pop it into the oven and bake it once your guests arrive. I used a chunky tomato sauce in my version, but you could also use a tomato puree and then add a few tablespoons of heavy cream to the sauce to create a tasty creamy sauce as well. Homemade ricotta cheese is very easy to make (see Making Ricotta Cheese At Home, but if you do not have the time, do choose good quality fresh ricotta when possible.
Deborah Mele 2011
For The Sauce:
- 2 Cloves Garlic, Peeled & Minced
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 3 Cups Chopped Tomatoes
- 3 Tablespoons Chopped fresh Basil
- Salt & Pepper
For The Filling:
- 3 Cups Fresh Ricotta Cheese
- 1 Cup Cooked Spinach, Cooked, Squeezed Dry & Chopped
- 1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 1/2 Cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
- Salt & Pepper
- 10 Manicotti Shells
- 1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese For Topping
- In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil and cook the garlic until fragrant.
- Add the tomatoes, stir, and season with salt and pepper.
- Cook over low heat for 15 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- While the sauce is cooking cook the manicotti shells in salted, boiling water following manufactures directions.
- Drain the shells and drop into a bowl of cold water.
- In a bowl, mix together the three cheeses and spinach.
- Season the ricotta mixture with salt and pepper.
- Drain the shells and pat dry with a kitchen towel.
- Spoon a half cup of sauce into the bottom of a large baking pan and spread evenly.
- Use either a pastry bag without a tip, or a ziplock bag with one end cut off and fill with the ricotta mixture.
- Holding the shell, squeeze the filling into the shell.
- Once filled, lay the shells into the pan side by side.
- Spoon the sauce evenly over the shells, then sprinkle with the remaining parmesan cheese.
- Bake the pasta covered for 20 minutes, then remove the cover and cook for another 20 minutes.
- Serve immediately.