Manicotti is a great dish to make and prep the day before you’re having a party, all the work and mess will be finished and cleaned up and you’ll be left with your perfect pan of piped manicotti ready to be popped into the oven the next day.
Many Italian families make their homemade manicotti crepes-style, but in my family we always used the dry manicotti pasta tubes that come in a box, it’s what I grew up on and what my family prefers, so in this post I share with you some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years in making them.
Many issues can come up in making the pasta-style manicotti, issues like over cooking, tearing pasta, collapsed tubes which are difficult to stuff and the actual process of stuffing them which can become a big mess, but if you follow my tips you should have no problem at all!
I have a box of Wilton, twelve inch disposable decorating bags, I use them every time I need to stuff pasta neatly, I use them whenever I make homemade ravioli for all my fillings plus it makes the process go much faster and cleaner.
No tip is needed for the bags, you’re just going to snip a little off the end so the filling can flow through smoothly. Test it out by holding the manicotti tube on a slight angle making sure it flows in nicely, if it doesn’t snip a little more off the end.
To fill the bag easily without the cheese mixture falling out all over the place, I always place the bag into a tall glass which will give you stability when filling it, as noted in the picture above. Fill it 3/4 of the way with a spoon and then grab the bag and squeeze from the top so the filling can fall down to the shaft of the bag where you cut it. The glass also acts as a holder for you and everything stays nice and neat during the whole process.
You can stuff these tubes with just about anything, but I prefer the creamy cheese manicotti with an addition of either spinach, parsley or basil. By prepping ahead of time with your sauce and cheese mixture it’s really then all about the assembly.
When making a large amount of manicotti for a party I only boil up one box at a time, then I scoop them out with a spider and quickly rinse with cold water, drain them onto a paper towel lined baking sheet and gently pat dry, then believe it or not I like to place the partially cooked pasta back into those individual slots they lay in from the box, this way it gives you more control and will insure them not sticking together while you’re preparing to stuff them. I do the same procedure if using only one box as well.
By scooping them out you’ll still have your hot pot of boiling water going for your next batch. Depending on how much your making you might loose some of the water but just add to it if needed and let it reboil again.
A very important tip is to cook them only for 5 minutes, I repeat, 5 minutes! Then scoop them out and rinse them under cold water. I don’t care if the box says cook for 8 minutes or 11 minutes I’m telling you just 5! Besides, they’ll spend more time baking under foil in the oven so when finished they’ll have the perfect bite.
Oh, and never ever pour them out into a strainer because they’ll stick together and break for sure.
It’s holiday time and baked manicotti is a delicious pasta course to have for your next party or get together. A beautiful individual portion that stands up well by itself or next to anything else you might be serving on the plate, besides there’s always room for pasta!
Make Ahead Manicotti with Tips and Tricks
- 1 box of manicotti pasta tubes, 8 oz.
- 2 quarts prepared marinara, preferably homemade or a good quality store bought
- 4 cups ricotta, drained of any liquid
- ½ cup or so grated romano cheese plus extra for garnish
- 1½ cups of shredded blend of 4 cheeses, Quattro Formaggio ( Trader Joes) or something similar or all mozzarella if you can’t find it.
- 2 egg yolks
- ½ cup of chopped frozen spinach, (completely drained of liquid) or fresh chopped parley or basil plus
- salt and pepper to taste
- ( 12 inch disposable decorator bags) a must
- Everything can be doubled or tripled for a large crowd
- Cook manicotti shells in boiling salted water with a teaspoon of olive oil for 5 minutes only, no matter what the back of the box tells you.
- After 5 minutes scoop out pasta with a spider then run them quickly under cold water to cool down.
- Spread them onto a paper towel lined baking sheet, let them drain a little and gently pat them dry with a paper towel, then lay each tube into the individual slotted holder that they came packaged in the box.
- In a large bowl combine the ricotta, romano, shredded cheeses and spinach or herbs, basically everything except the egg yolks, use a hand mixer to get it nice and smooth.
- Taste it for enough cheese, salt and pepper, when you are satisfied with the taste add the 2 egg yolks and incorporate it with the hand mixer.
- Place a disposable decorator bag into a tall glass for stability ( no tip required) then spoon some of the ricotta mixture into it, filling it three quarters of the way up. Snip off the bottom enough so that the filling squeezes through with ease into the pasta hole.
- Spread enough marinara to cover the bottom of your baking dish.
- Pick up one pasta tube and tip it on an angle and with your decorator bag start piping the ricotta mix in as far as it goes, if it doesn’t reach the other end just flip to that side and fill it up.
- Lay it down on top of the marinara sauce and repeat until all are filled.
- When all the manicotti are filled spoon more marinara on top with some grated cheese.
- Cover with foil.
- At this point you can refrigerate the whole pan and the next day take it out a good hour or so before baking to get it close to room temperature.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees, keep pan covered with foil and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until heated through because ovens do vary.
- Remove from the oven, take off the foil and let it set for 5 minutes, spoon some warm sauce on top and garnish with more grated cheese.
- Ready to serve!