Sunday, January 8, 2012

Baked Manicotti (and a simple sauce recipe)

There are certain foods that have always intimidated me.  Manicotti is one of them.  The thought of trying to pipe cheese filling into cooked tubes of pasta sounded difficult and frustrating.  And then came a revelation.  On America's Test Kitchen one Saturday morning, the topic was manicotti.  On ATK, their goal is to take something that's difficult and make it accessible.  This episode fulfilled that promise and introduced me to a novel idea:  manicotti made with lasagna noodles.  I've made them twice so far, and the reviews have been very positive - this recipe is a keeper.  Also, the sauce is very simple and tastes good on its own if you need a quick recipe.

BAKED MANICOTTI - makes 16 manicotti - serves up to 8 people.


  • 2   28-ounce cans whole plum tomatoes (in juice)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (or less, to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • about 3 cups ricotta cheese - if you're fortunate enough to get to choose between several brands, choose one without stabilizers (*note* from what I've found, the big containers have ~2.5 cups - I've used these and then filled the manicotti a little bit less)
  • 4 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)
  • 8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese (about 2 cups)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 16 no-boil lasagna noodles (*note* I've used Barilla and Ronzoni - Barilla has 16 noodles/box, Ronzoni only has 12 so you'll have to buy 2 boxes and have leftovers)

The sauce, filling, and noodle prep can be done simultaneously.

  • Pulse one can of tomatoes in a food processor or blender until coarsely chopped.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Once hot, add garlic and red pepper flakes (if using) and cook for 1-2 minutes (the garlic will be fragrant, but not brown).
  • Add first can of tomatoes to the pot.  Stir.
  • Pulse second can of tomatoes.  Add to pot.  Stir.  (You could do both cans at the beginning and reserve in a bowl, but I prefer to conserve dishes.)
  • Cook for about 15 minutes, until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally.
  • Remove from heat and add chopped basil. 
  • In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, 1 cup Parmesan, mozzarella, eggs, pepper (to taste), and herbs in medium bowl.
  • Mix well.  Set aside.
Noodle Prep:
  • Bring about 4 cups of water to a boil. 
  • (Very carefully) pour the boiling water into a 9"x13" glass pan.  Add noodles one at a time.  Allow to soak for about 5 minutes, or until pliable and similar to the texture of fresh pasta.  While soaking, move the noodles around with the tip of a sharp knife to avoid sticking.
  • Remove the noodles and lay them out in a single layer on clean kitchen towels.  Dump out water and dry dish.
  • Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  • Scoop a scant quarter cup of filling onto each noodle.
  • Spread the filling over 3/4 of the noodle, leaving 1/4 on an end exposed.

  • Evenly cover the bottom of the 9"x13" glass baking dish with 1.5 cups of sauce.
  • Starting at the end with filling, roll each noodle into a tube shape.  (The non-filled portion of noodle should help the end of the tube stick).
  • Place seam-side down in the baking dish.  (In the occasion in this picture, I used 2 8"x8" baking dishes because my 9"x13" was in use.)

  •  Roll up the remaining manicotti and add to the dish.  I slide them into place so that there is sauce between each tube - otherwise the noodles may stick together.
  • Top with the remaining sauce, making sure to cover all of the manicotti.  (If there's enough, keep about a cup to the side to serve with them at the end.)
  • Cover the pan with foil.  Bake for 40 minutes.
  • Remove the foil.  Top with remaining cup of Parmesan.  Bake for an additional 4-6 minutes, until the cheese starts to get brown spots.
  • Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.
  • Serve with a green salad and Italian bread.  Enjoy!

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