I’ve been making this version of cheese manicotti for so many years, it’s hard to believe I haven’t gotten around to sharing it with you guys! While many baked pasta dishes can take all day long to prepare – between making the sauce, cooking the pasta, and layering the pasta before baking – this one only takes a few minutes. And the flavor is unparalleled.
The key is using no-bake lasagna noodles to make the manicotti. No stuffing tubes required! The cheese mixture is simply spread on some lasagna noodles that have been softened using a bit of boiling water, rolled up and placed in the baking dish, then topped with a simple tomato sauce that takes just a few moments to bring together. With the addition of fresh basil, the sauce is really delicious too – light and bright in flavor.
This was the first time I’d made it using homemade ricotta, and it really took it to the next level. So, if you have an extra few minutes – I’d highly recommend taking the time to make your own, but it’s certainly not required. I like to serve with a nice green salad and some crunchy garlic bread for a traditional Italian meal that the whole family loves. It’s a favorite in our home, and I know it will be in yours as well!
For the sauce:
2 (28 oz) cans diced tomatoes (in juice)
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, optional
1 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
For the manicotti:
3 cups ricotta cheese
4 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)
10 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese (about 2 1/2 cups)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp kosher table salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley leaves (or 2½ teaspoons dried parsley)
2 tsp chopped fresh basil (or 1 teaspoon dried basil)
16 no-boil lasagna noodles (I like Barilla)
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees.
Add tomatoes to the bowl of a food processor and pulse about 5 times, until tomatoes are broken down but still slightly chunky.
Heat oil, garlic, and pepper flakes (if using) in large saucepan over medium heat until fragrant but not brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, basil and salt and simmer until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes.
In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, 1 cup Parmesan cheese, 2 cups mozzarella cheese, eggs, salt, pepper, and herbs; set aside.
To assemble, pour 1 inch boiling water into 13 by 9-inch baking dish, then add noodles one at a time. Let noodles soak until pliable, about 5 minutes, separating noodles with tip of sharp knife to prevent sticking. Remove noodles from water and place in single layer on clean kitchen towels; discard water in baking dish and dry.
Spread bottom of baking dish evenly with 1 1/2 cups sauce. Using a spoon or small rubber spatula, spread 1/4 cup cheese mixture evenly onto bottom three-quarters of each noodle (with short side facing you), leaving top quarter of noodle exposed. Roll into tube shape and arrange in baking dish seam side down. (You should be able to fit 8 manicotti in each row, allowing all 16 to fit in the dish). Top evenly with remaining sauce, making certain that pasta is completely covered.
Cover manicotti with aluminum foil. Bake until bubbling, about 40 minutes, then remove foil. Sprinkle manicotti evenly with remaining 1 cup Parmesan and 1/2 cup mozzarella. Bake until cheese is browned and bubbly, about 6-7 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 15 minutes before serving.
Source: adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, January 2007