It’s not clear where the expression “stuffed like a manicotti” originated, but it’s safe to say that no one leaves hungry after sitting down to a meal of stuffed pasta. Manicotti, meaning “little muffs” in Italian, are tubes of pasta usually about four inches long and one inch in diameter. The pasta is boiled until nearly al dente, stuffed, baked, and topped with sauce, making a versatile and hearty one-pot dish that’s ideal for serving large parties.
Manicotti are usually filled with a simple vegetarian mixture of spinach, herbs, and ricotta, and topped with a basic tomato sauce. More elaborate preparations often include ground beef, Parmesan, mozzarella, and béchamel sauce or ragù. But if it’s your first time making manicotti, it’s probably best to stick to the basics. (Photo courtesy of flickr/Javier Lastras)
When cooking the pasta, make sure to use plenty of heavily salted boiling water; as they say, it should be as salty as the sea. Don’t cook the pasta all the way through, since it will finish cooking in the oven. Take a glass baking dish (a 9-by-13-inch dish should do nicely) and use the sauce to create the first layer; this will keep the pasta from sticking as it bakes. Stuff the pasta with the filling and arrange in a single layer. Top with more sauce and cheese, and place in the oven. For a little added flair, dot the top of the dish with small pieces of butter to ensure the cheese browns as it bakes.
If you can’t find manicotti at the store, there are similar recipes using large pasta shells, which may be easier to find. Whatever you decide to do, season the sauce and stuffing well, use quality cheese, avoid store-bought sauce, and just make sure to keep the tips outlined here in mind while making the dish. That’s a definite recipe for success. (Photo courtesy of France Ruffenach)