This manicotti recipe is an Italian-American favorite with three kinds of cheese, marinara sauce, and spinach! It's an oven-baked classic that feeds a crowd.
Why you'll love it
My family can never resist a homecooked pasta bake, and this manicotti recipe is one of our favorites. It's simple to throw together for a hearty meatless meal. This irresistibly cheesy stuffed pasta also makes perfect portions, so nobody has to fight over who got more!
It's also a make ahead meal that you can take out of the fridge or freezer whenever you're ready to pop it in the oven for a cozy family dinner. You can find manicotti on the menu at plenty of Italian-American restaurants, but why not make it yourself from scratch?
What is manicotti?
- It's the American version of what's known as cannelloni in Italy, and they're quite similar. The word "manicotti" loosely translates to "sleeves" because of their hollow cylindrical shape. Italian immigrants brought this pasta shape from the motherland that's ideal for adding delicious filling, and we're here for it!
Ingredients for it
- Manicotti - they come in a sturdy box in the dry pasta aisle to prevent breakage
- Marinara sauce - any brand will do, but make sure it's one you enjoy the taste of since it's a key ingredient. Homemade marinara sauce works too.
- Frozen spinach - it's a classic pairing with ricotta cheese
- Ricotta - use whole milk for the most creaminess
- Parmesan - always grate your own for maximum freshness, taste, and texture. I like using this grater.
- Egg - for binding the filling together
- Salt & pepper - a generous amount for pasta is always a good idea to bring out the flavors
- Garlic powder - to infuse more savory flavor
- Italian seasoning - it's a classic blend of dried herbs that includes rosemary and thyme, and it comes all in a single jar for convenience
- Mozzarella - our third delicious cheese that melts over top of everything!
How to thaw frozen spinach
- Place frozen spinach in a colander or sieve, and run it under lukewarm water. Once it's thawed, just use your hands to squeeze out the excess water.
- If you're in a hurry and need it thawed faster, add the spinach to a bowl and microwave it for a few minutes, checking on it every so often. After that, add it to the colander, quickly rinse it under cool water, and squeeze the water out with your hands.
How to make manicotti
This is an overview with step-by-step photos. Full ingredients & instructions are in the recipe card below.
Preheat the oven, and boil the manicotti until 2 minutes before the package directions indicate they're done. Drain in a colander. In a 9x13 baking dish, pour in the marinara sauce.
Thaw the spinach. In a small bowl, make the ricotta and spinach filling mixture and stir until combined well. Stuff each manicotti noodle with the cheese filling, and add to the baking dish as you go along.
Top with mozzarella, and cover tightly with foil. Bake until hot and melty, and then broil for a few minutes to brown the cheese. Serve immediately and garnish with salt & pepper and fresh basil!
Can you make manicotti ahead of time?
- Of course! Do everything up until the baking stage, and then cover it tightly with aluminum foil or a lid. Keep in the fridge for up to a day before baking.
- You can also freeze it for up to 3 months before you're ready to bake it. Thaw it overnight in the fridge for best results, and you'll probably need to add extra baking time so that it's hot all the way through. Don't bake it from frozen, or your casserole dish could crack.
How do you stuff manicotti?
- I actually find it easiest to do with a small spoon like a teaspoon. Simply fill each shell halfway with the ricotta mixture, turn it around, and then do the other side.
- Let some of the filling stick out of the openings and stuff them full using as much of the mixture as you can! The filling is our favorite part.
- You can definitely also use a piping bag or a ZipLoc with the corner cut off if you're comfortable with that method instead.
Substitutions and variations
- It's a pretty standard recipe, but in a pinch you could use cottage cheese instead of the ricotta. It won't be exactly the same, though.
- If you like a spicy kick, add in some crushed red pepper flakes for a little bit of heat.
- Frozen spinach saves effort and cleanup, but you can use fresh spinach if you prefer. Sauté 16 oz. of fresh baby spinach in a skillet until it's wilted. Once cooled, chop it up.
Leftovers and storage
- Leftovers will last for 3-4 days in the fridge, but keep in mind the pasta will soften up the longer you leave it.
- Reheat in your microwave on low in short intervals. You could also reheat in a saucepan over a low heat or in the oven in the same casserole dish if you have a lot left over.
- I don't recommend freezing leftovers. The texture of the pasta will change, and melted cheese doesn't always freeze well either.
Let me know in the comments below if you made this spinach ricotta manicotti, or tag me #saltandlavender on Instagram with your creations!
- 12 manicotti shells
- 1 (24 ounce) jar marinara sauce
- 16 ounces frozen spinach thawed
- 15 ounces ricotta cheese
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese shredded
- For serving: fresh basil and/or chopped parsley optional, to taste
- Preheat your oven to 375F and move the rack to the top third of the oven.
- Boil a salted pot of water and cook the manicotti 2 minutes less than package directions indicate (they will finish cooking in the oven). Once the pasta is done, drain it and keep in your colander/strainer until needed.
- Pour the jar of marinara sauce in a 9x13 casserole dish and spread it out evenly.
- While the manicotti cooks, thaw the spinach and squeeze the water out thoroughly. Add it to a prep bowl along with the ricotta, parmesan, egg, salt & pepper, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning. Stir together until well combined.
- Spoon or pipe the mixture into each manicotti noodle and add them to the casserole dish as you fill them. I find it fastest to use a small spoon (like a teaspoon), and I fill each one halfway then turn it around and finish filling it from the other opening. You can pack quite a lot of filling into each manicotti shell so it all gets used up (let some filling stick out a bit as shown in the step-by-step photos in the blog post).
- Top with the mozzarella and cover the casserole dish tightly with foil.
- Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and broil for a few minutes to brown the cheese (watch it carefully so it doesn't burn).
- Serve immediately with extra salt & pepper as needed and fresh basil and/or parsley if using.
- Serves 4-6 depending on portion size. Two manicotti shells per person is a reasonable portion size, especially if it's served with something else.
- You can use fresh spinach if you prefer. Simply sauté 16 oz. of fresh baby spinach in a skillet until wilted, let it cool, and then chop it.
- See the blog post for make ahead info, freezing tips, and step-by-step photos.
- Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy only and should be construed as an estimate rather than a guarantee. Ingredients can vary and Salt & Lavender makes no guarantees to the accuracy of this information.