Baked Manicotti is a hearty family dinner of pasta shells stuffed with ricotta and Parmesan cheese, topped with ground beef and a simple homemade marinara sauce. It is delicious comfort food for fall or anytime of year. Easy to make ahead of time and sure to be a family favorite meal!
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Baked manicotti is pure comfort food! The combination of pasta stuffed with lots of creamy cheese and topped off with a hearty beef and tomato sauce is delicious and perfect for an satisfying family dinner.
Whether it is a big Sunday dinner or a make ahead weeknight meal baked manicotti is a dinner the entire family will enjoy. It is easy to put this meal together early in the day and then pop it in the oven at dinner time.
What’s the Difference Between Manicotti and Cannelloni?
Both manicotti and cannelloni are Italian meals that involve stuffed pasta shells covered in sauce and baked. The difference between the two dishes is that manicotti is a tube shaped pasta which is stuffed before baking. Cannelloni is made with crepes or flat pasta which is then rolled into a tube. For me it is easier to buy a box of manicotti tubes than to roll cannelloni.
Preparing the Baked Manicotti Shells
Stuffed manicotti does take some time to prepare, and one of the most important steps is preparing the manicotti shells for stuffing. There are three basic ways do this:
- Soak the Manicotti Shells – Put the shells in a long pan. Cover them with tap water, as hot as you can make it, and then let them soak for 20-30 minutes. Then stuff them.
- Boil the Manicotti Shells – Bring a big pot of water to a boil and cook the shells for 4-6 minutes. Drain the them and let them cool enough to handle before stuffing.
- Use No Boil Manicotti Shells – If you decide to use these cook them as the package directs. I don’t care for the texture of the no boil shells so I prefer not to use them.
Soaking the manicotti shells is the option I usually choose and that is what I suggest in my recipe. I just find it the simplest option. And while the shells are soaking I have time to make the marinara sauce.
Whether you decide to boil the manicotti shells or soak them once they have softened don’t let them sit too long before stuffing them. They will continue to soften and get sticky and hard to handle.
Making the Marinara Sauce for Baked Manicotti
To top the baked manicotti I made a simple marinara sauce. This sauce is made by frying ground beef and onion in a skillet and then adding garlic, tomatoes and Italian spices.
This is a pretty basic marinara sauce and if you want to make something more complicated it is easy to do so! You can also make a big pot of marinara sauce and freeze it to use for all kinds of Italian favorites like spaghetti and ravioli.
My favorite variation for the sauce it to use spicy Italian sausage instead of the ground beef. Other tasty variations could be using ground turkey or adding green peppers and mushrooms to the sauce. This recipe will taste delicious with whatever tomato sauce your family likes best. It would also work fine to use a jar of premade spaghetti sauce if you are in a rush.
Filling the Stuffed Manicotti Shells
In this recipe the manicotti are filled with a creamy cheese sauce. I use a combination of ricotta and Parmesan cheese mixed with an egg. The egg helps keep the cheese from getting too runny as it bakes. I also like to add fresh basil to the cheesy filling.
Manicotti shells aren’t huge and the first time you make homemade stuffed manicotti it can seem a little intimidating to fill the shells. But it really is much simpler and less messy than it seems.
The easiest way to stuff the manicotti shells is to put the filling in a large ziploc bag and cut off the corner. Then pipe the filling into half the softened shell, turn it and pipe filling into the other half. Turning the shell around halfway through and adding filling to each side makes it much easier to get the filling neatly into the shell.
Assembling the Stuffed Manicotti
Once the manicotti shells are stuffed assembling the dish for baking is quick and easy. I used my cast iron skillet, which is the perfect size for holding the baked manicotti. A rectangular glass baking dish would also work well.
First put a layer of sauce in the skillet to cover the bottom of the pan. Then top the sauce with the stuffed manicotti shells.
Cover the shells with the rest of the marinara sauce. Then top the entire thing off with grated mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. The dish needs to bake for about an hour before serving.
Make Ahead Meal
There are a couple different ways you can prepare this stuffed manicotti meal ahead of time. My favorite it to make and assemble the entire dish and then cover with foil and refrigerate until ready to bake. You can make it up to about a day ahead of time and just pop it in the oven when you are ready. I make it in a glass casserole dish if I am making it in advance.
Another option is to make either (or both) the marinara sauce or the cheese filling ahead of time. Both will keep for about 3 days in the refrigerator until you are ready to put the stuffed manicotti together.
What to Serve With Baked Manicotti
I usually serve this dinner with a simple vegetable like asparagus or a green salad. You could also add some fresh bread, but this meal is already pretty carb heavy, so I find bread can be too much!
This dinner is perfect for autumn when the days get shorter and colder. Fall is all about comfort food for me! It is also an excellent meal to take to a potluck or make to bring to a new mother. This family friendly recipe is delicious!
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 Tablespoon dried basil
- 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1 package manicotti shells (12 pieces)
- 3/4 cup Parmesan, divided
- 1 egg
- 16 ounces ricotta cheese
- 14.5 ounces can diced tomatoes
- 28 ounces can crushed tomatoes
- 2 Tablespoons fresh basil
- In a large skillet fry the ground beef and onion until the meat is no longer pink.
- Add the minced garlic along with the basil, oregano, salt and pepper.
- Add crushed and diced tomatoes. Simmer 20-30 minutes.
- While the marinara sauce simmers prepare the manicotti shells. Add the shells to a large rectangular pan and fill it with hot tap water, as hot as you can make it. Let the shells soak for 20-30 minutes.
- Mix ricotta cheese, egg, and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese in a bowl. Cut the fresh basil and blend in with ricotta mixture.
- Drain the manicotti shells.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F°.
- Scoop half the sauce into bottom of cast iron skillet or rectangular baking pan.
- Fill the shells with ricotta mixture and place in skillet. Put the filling in a ziploc bag, cut the corner off and use the bag to pipe filling into the shells. It is easiest to fill one half, then turn the shell and fill the other half.
- Cover the stuffed manicotti shells with the remaining sauce. Top with shredded mozzarella and the remaining ¼ cup parmesan.
- Bake at 350° for 55-60 minutes or until cheese is starting to turn golden brown.
You can make up to a day ahead of time and refrigerate, tightly covered, until ready to bake.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 846 Total Fat: 49g Saturated Fat: 24g Trans Fat: 1g Unsaturated Fat: 19g Cholesterol: 243mg Sodium: 1945mg Carbohydrates: 35g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 7g Sugar: 14g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 68g