Manicotti is yummy. It sounds and looks impressive, but it’s not very complicated. (I am assuming, of course, that you’re not making your own pasta or milking your own cow to make the cheese.)
As a matter of fact, after making it a few times, you can do it pretty quickly. You make the filling, put it into the cooked pasta tubes and then arrange the tubes on a dish with some sauce on top. Then you put it in the oven. As for the actual filling part, there are a few ways to approach it. I don’t recommend buying any kind of kitchen equipment to do it, though probably there is such a thing. You can get by with using a little ziploc bag with one corner snipped off. That’s the method recommended in my cookbook. (“Spoon the filling into a zipper-lock bag, cut a hole in the corner of the bag, and squeeze gently from the top to pipe out the filling.”) I’ve done that before, but you can also use a combination of spoon and fingers to push the filling into place. You could, I suppose, even slice the manicotti lengthwise on purpose, fill it and then place them into the baking dish seam-side down. Whatever you do, the end result will be scrumptious.
This one is from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, 2010 edition:
Cheesy Baked Manicotti
Serves: 4 to 6
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour (includes 30 minutes baking and cooling time)
When buying manicotti, examine the package to make sure the noodles aren’t broken or cracked. Any type of tomato sauce will work here, including your favorite jarred brand. You can substitute a 12-ounce box of jumbo pasta shells for the manicotti.
12 manicotti (8 ounces)
22 ounces ricotta cheese (2 3/4 cups)
3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 1/2 cups)
3 ounces mozzarella, shredded (3/4 cup)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
4 cups tomato sauce (see note above)
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot for the pasta. When the water is boiling, stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the manicotti. Cook, stirring often, until the manicotti is almost tender but still a little firm to the bite. Drain the manicotti, spread the tubes out over a baking sheet, and let cool.
2. Meanwhile, mix together the ricotta, 1 cup of the Parmesan, the mozzarella, egg, basil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.
3. Following the photos, squeeze about 5 tablespoons of filling into each manicotti tube (or spoon about 1 tablespoon filling into each shell). Arrange the filled pasta in an oiled 9 by 13-inch baking dish.
4. Pour the tomato sauce over the filled pasta. Wrap the dish tightly in foil and bake until the sauce is bubbling around the edges and the ricotta filling is hot, about 25 minutes.
5. Let cool for 5 minutes, then sprinkle with the parsley and remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan.
To Make Ahead
Assemble the casserole as directed through step 3. Wrap the dish tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Allow the manicotti to sit at room temperature for 1 hour before proceeding with step 4.