Baked Manicotti – Mel’s Kitchen Cafe


This amazing baked cheese manicotti has all the deliciousness of traditional manicotti with a much easier way to “stuff” the shells!

baked manicotti on white plate

I used to think of manicotti as a super fancy (and fussy) way to eat pasta + cheese + sauce. Turns out that manicotti is actually pretty easy to make. 

I’ve been making this recipe for over ten years, and it really is the best baked cheese manicotti out there.

The flavors are simple but classic, and it is one of those meals that pleases every single palate in my family. If that isn’t reason enough to rejoice, just wait until you see how easy it is to “stuff” the shells. 

It’s brilliant and revolutionary, which basically means baked manicotti just became a meal you’ll want to make very, very often. 

two baked manicotti on metal spatula

Revolutionizing Baked Manicotti

Most recipes for stuffed and baked manicotti call for…yep, you guessed it…manicotti shells. Think: really large tubes of pasta that normally need to be boiled and then precariously stuffed with filling (in my experience, the shells are breaking and tearing and I’m saying lots of bad words and vowing to never make manicotti again). 

But this recipe is brilliant because the manicotti is rolled rather than stuffed. This means we need to think outside of the box for the manicotti pasta.

Sheets of no-boil lasagna noodles replace traditional manicotti shells. And I promise, manicotti is better for it. 

You want to look for brands of no-boil lasagna noodles that are flat and look like dried pasta. The no-boil lasagna noodles that have ridges and are slightly opaque don’t work as well. 

Two brands I like in this recipe: Barilla (in the blue box; pretty easy to find) and Trader Joe’s.

pouring boiling water over lasagna noodles in glass pan

The noodles soak in boiling water in the same pan you’ll bake the shells in (holla!) for just a few minutes until they are soft and pliable. 

This makes me very happy because for some reason, as I get older, I am finding myself more and more mentally allergic to boiling lasagna noodles ever again for any type of recipe. I really kind of hate it. 

Once the noodles are soft, I place them in a single layer on paper towels (or clean non-terry cloth kitchen towels).

rolling up manicotti shells with cheesy ricotta filling

Cheese Filling for Manicotti

The delectable cheese filling is really simple: 

A healthy dollop of the cheese filling goes on the end of each noodle. At this point you have a choice: spread the filling evenly across 3/4 of the rectangle noodle OR leave it in a beautiful lump. 

There’s no right or wrong way. I tend to leave it in a mound of cheesy goodness and roll it up that way since it eliminates the step of spreading. Cause some days, gosh darn it, spreading seems hard. 

pouring red marinara sauce over rolled manicotti

The filled and rolled manicotti shells get neatly placed in the saucy baking dish. And more sauce goes on top. 

The sauce is a simple pantry-staple concoction of diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and a few simple seasonings. I very often use all crushed tomatoes since a few of my kids don’t love big, chunky tomatoes. Rude. 

A Manicotti Shortcut

Very often, if I have leftover homemade spaghetti sauce (and your favorite jarred pasta sauce would work, too), I use that in place of the sauce “recipe” below. Less work and just as delicious!

taking bite out of best baked manicotti with fork

The Best Baked Manicotti

Truly, this baked cheesy manicotti is one of the best meals ever. My family goes crazy for it, easily devouring the entire pan.

Actually, before anyone digs in, I guarantee some child remembered the math to figure out how many manicotti each family member can have. 

That’s 2.285 manicotti per person in my household, in case you are wondering. And if you think the kids don’t monitor that precisely, you have no idea who you are dealing with. 

This baked manicotti also makes one of my favorite take-in meals AND is a great meatless meal option that is still hearty and satisfying. 

ceramic pan with baked manicotti and red sauce

One Year Ago: My Mom’s Famous Freezer Beef and Bean Burritos 
Two Years Ago: Small Batch Soft and Fluffy Whole Wheat Bread {Perfect for KitchenAid Mixers}
Three Years Ago: Instant Pot Smoky Honey Cilantro Chicken {Bonus: Slow Cooker Directions} 
Four Years Ago: Almond Joy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Five Years Ago: The Best No-Bake Cheesecake
Six Years Ago: Cheesy Chicken Enchilada Stuffed Peppers {With a Slow Cooker Variation}
Seven Years Ago: Cinnamon Roll Cake
Eight Years Ago: Succulent Grilled Pork Tenderloin

Yield: 6-8 servings

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Additional Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours

baked manicotti on white plate

Ingredients

Tomato Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
  • 1 can (28-ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 can (28-ounces) crushed tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Cheese Filling:

  • 3 cups ricotta cheese, part skim or whole milk (see note for homemade)
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (or 2 teaspoons dried parsley)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil (or 1 teaspoon dried basil)

Noodles + Topping:

  • 16 no-boil lasagna noodles (see note)
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. For the sauce: heat oil, garlic, and pepper flakes (if using) in large saucepan or skillet over medium heat until fragrant but not brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, basil and 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes.
  3. For the filling: in a medium bowl, combine ricotta, Parmesan cheese (1 cup), mozzarella cheese, eggs, salt, pepper, parsley and basil; set aside.
  4. To assemble: pour 1-2 inches boiling water into a 9X13-inch baking dish. Add the noodles one at a time, alternating directions so they don’t stick. Let the noodles soak until soft enough to roll up, about 5 minutes. Separate the noodles with the tip of a sharp knife to prevent sticking. Remove the noodles from the water and place in a single layer on clean kitchen towels or paper towels. Discard the water in the baking dish and dry the dish to use for assembling and baking the manicotti.
  5. Spread 1 1/2 cups sauce on the bottom of the baking dish.
  6. Dollop about 1/4 cup of the cheese mixture on the bottom short side of each noodle. You can either spread the mixture evenly over the bottom 3/4 of the noodle or keep it in a little mound. Roll up the noodle and filling into a tube shape and arrange in the baking dish seam side down. All 16 noodles should easily fit in the 9X13-inch dish.
  7. Spread the remaining sauce evenly over the noodles so they are completely covered.
  8. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Bake until the manicotti is bubbling, about 40 minutes. Remove the foil. Sprinkle the manicotti evenly with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (add more, if desired). Bake, uncovered, until cheese is browned and bubbly, about 6-7 minutes.
  9. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Notes

Tomatoes: very often I use two cans of crushed tomatoes (28 ounces each) instead of one can crushed/one can diced.

Homemade Ricotta: easy homemade ricotta recipe here.

Lasagna Noodles: I use the Barilla or Trader Joe’s brand of no-boil lasagna noodles. They are flat sheets of pasta. Other no-boil noodles that are ridged may not work as well.

Make Ahead: the manicotti can be prepared right up until the baking step then covered with a sheet of parchment paper, wrapped in aluminum foil, and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month. To bake, remove the parchment, replace the aluminum foil, and increase baking time to 1 to 1 1/4 hours, covered, then bake, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes until heated through.

Recommended Products

As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Recipe Source: adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Recipe originally published Sept 2009; updated Sept 2020 with new photos, recipe notes, etc.

two manicotti pasta rolls with red sauce on top on a white plate

Posted on September 16, 2020 by Mel



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