My daughter loves pasta of any shape or size. Plain or stuffed, she loves it all. When I asked if she wanted to try my Great Aunt Elanor’s recipe for Spinach Manicotti, she was very excited. This Italian American dish is not truly authentic to the way it’s prepared in Italy but it makes for a quick weeknight meal. With some planning, I can even make this dish ahead and just pop it in the oven when I’m ready. Trays of manicotti are also easily frozen, too. Simply defrost the night before and cook per the directions! Use either a disposable aluminum pan with aluminum foil to cover or me sure to use a freezer safe casserole dish. Mostly I serve this dish on the weekend when it is just my daughter and I home for dinner – it’s makes for a great lazy weekend meal.
You can use fresh or frozen spinach in this recipe. I usually prepare fresh spinach I’ve stemmed and chopped but you can use frozen if that works best for your family. If you use frozen be sure to defrost it fully before use and for both fresh or frozen be sure to squeeze out all the excess water with either your hands or by wringing it in a clean tea towel. Otherwise you will have a soggy filling. No one wants that! Another way I make this manicotti is with shredded zucchini. Just like the spinach, I wring out the excess water before adding it to the filling. My daughter has no idea it’s in there so this is a great way for me to sneak zucchini past her and add another serving of vegetables into this dish.
I mix mine together in a bowl and then add it into a large zip top or piping bag and snip off the end. At the top of the filling, twist the bag around itself, this helps keeps steady, even pressure on the bag and allows you to pipe the filling into the center of the shell. Once you reach the end of the shell, turn it around and pipe it again into the other side. No special tips or anything needed. If you do not have a bag, my aunt always filled hers with a spoon – scraping it off the spoon with the edge of the shell and pushing it into the center. She then repeated the process on the other end of the shell. This way is a bit more time consuming than piping with the disposable bag.
Add enough sauce to the bottom of your baking pan to keep the manicotti from sticking – about 1 cup. Then place the filled shells on top of the sauce. Once you have all the shells stuffed, add extra sauce and shredded cheese – as much or as little as you like. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake it for 30-minutes or until heated through. If you like your cheese browned and bubbly, remove the aluminum foil and bake another 5-10 minutes. Serve immediately.
Do you have a favorite manicotti recipe? Share it with me!
Yield 7 servings
Less than 10 ingredients and just 15 minutes prep is all you need to whip up this Italian pasta dish. Follow the make-ahead tips and you'll have an easy and affordable weeknight dinner.
- 1 box (8 oz) uncooked manicotti shells
- 2 cups shredded Italian cheese blend
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 (16 oz) container ricotta cheese, part skim or regular
- 10 oz fresh blanched or frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, squeezed dry
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 3 cups or 1 jar (24 oz) pasta sauce (any flavor and variety)
- Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil. Quickly cook the spinach, remove with a slotted spoon (reserving the water), and drain well and then squeeze of excess water. Chop and set aside.
- In the same pot of water, cook manicotti pasta shells as directed on the box. Rinse with cool water; drain well. Set aside
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together 1-1/2 cups Italian cheese blend, red pepper flakes, ricotta cheese, prepared spinach, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. stir to combine and taste to check seasonings. Then add the egg and mix well.
- In the bottom of an ungreased 13x9-inch glass baking dish, spread 1 cup of the pasta sauce. Pipe or spoon ricotta mixture into the manicotti shells; place on top of the sauce in baking dish. Repeat with remaining shells. Pour remaining sauce over manicotti and top with the reserved cheese.
- Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 30-minutes or until sauce is bubbling and hot. Uncover dish and bake uncovered 5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted, bubbly, and slightly browned.
You can make this recipe up to 24 hours ahead. Just cover and refrigerate until ready to bake. Add about 10-minutes to the baking time.
This recipe is easily halved. In the case of the egg, still use one whole egg.