Cheesy baked manicotti is a traditional Italian recipe that elicits eager “oohs and aahs” when it hits the table. It’s easy to make stuffed manicotti at home — with just a few ingredients. This spinach and ricotta pasta bake uses large tubular pasta filled with seasoned spinach and 3-cheeses. This recipe makes a big casserole of baked spinach and cheese manicotti that the whole family will love.
Table of Contents
- 1 Why you’ll love this baked spinach and cheese manicotti recipe
- 2 What are manicotti noodles?
- 3 What you’ll need for spinach manicotti
- 4 How to make easy spinach manicotti
- 5 Pro-Tips:
- 6 Substitutions & Variations
- 7 What our tasters said:
- 8 FAQ’s
- 9 What to serve with spinach manicotti
- 10 More Italian recipe favorites:
- 11 Spinach Manicotti
Why you’ll love this baked spinach and cheese manicotti recipe
- Stuffed manicotti is easy to make with just a few steps.
- You can use jarred marinara sauce (or homemade – whatever you have on hand).
- You don’t need any special equipment to stuff the manicotti noodles.
- It makes a big 13″ x 9″ casserole to feed the whole family.
- It’s so cheesy!
What are manicotti noodles?
“Manicotto” in Italian loosely translates as “a big sleeve.” Manicotti noodles (Cannelloni in Italy) are large tubular pasta (sleeves) made for stuffing. The tubes are thick and sturdy with a wavy ridged look.
Look for manicotti noodles near the lasagna sheets and large shells in the pasta aisle.
Do you have to cook manicotti noodles before baking?
Manicotti needs to be par-cooked before stuffing and baking, so you’ll first want to get a large pot of water on to boil. Make sure the pot is of sufficient size to give the noodles room to cook without crowding them and sticking together.
Cook the pasta to a minute or two sooner than al dente, so the pasta is pliable but still sturdy (the stuffed manicotti will finish cooking in the oven). Gently transfer the cooked noodles (so they don’t crack or break) to a sheet pan. Drizzle the manicotti with olive oil to prevent them from sticking together.
What you’ll need for spinach manicotti
- Olive OIl
- Dried Basil
- Dried Oregano
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- Kosher Salt
- Black Pepper
- Roasted Red Pepper
- Ricotta Cheese
- Shredded Mozzarella
- Grana Padana (or Parmesan)
- Marinara Sauce
A note about the ingredients:
- Ricotta is a soft cheese with a fine, grainy texture. It’s sold in tubs in the refrigerated section of your grocer. You can use whole milk or skim ricotta for this recipe.
- I’m usually a stickler for grating your cheese, but this recipe’s pre-grated mozzarella works fine.
- Use REAL Grana Padano or authentic Parmigiano Reggiano, and DO grate it yourself. Flavor-wise, you can taste the difference.
- I usually have some homemade marinara sauce in my freezer for occasions like this, but a good low-sugar store-bought variety works well here too. Publix marinara sauce is my go-to.
How to make easy spinach manicotti
- Cook the manicotti noodles to al dente, drizzle with olive oil and set aside to cool on a large sheet pan.
- Sauté the garlic in olive oil and add the dried spices.
- Stir in the thawed and drained spinach, chopped roasted red pepper, cheese and egg.
- Stuff the manicotti noodles with the spinach and cheese filling.
- Spread a little marinara sauce into the bottom of the casserole dish and top it with the stuffed manicotti noodles.
- Add more marinara and top with grated mozzarella cheese.
- Cover and bake until the casserole is bubbly and the cheese is gooey and melted.
- Par-cooked manicotti noodles are sturdy, but they can tear or break, so treat them delicately. Don’t force or overstuff the pasta.
- If you have disposable piping bags, that’s a great way to stuff the noodles with the spinach and ricotta filling. Don’t use a piping tip, as the red bell peppers and spinach can block up the opening. I recommend snipping off enough of the end of the bag to give you about a three-quarter to one-inch diameter opening.
- If you don’t have a piping bag, use a zip-top quart or gallon storage bag. Squeeze out the air, seal the bag, then snip off a corner to pipe the spinach cheese filling into the manicotti.
Substitutions & Variations
- Use cottage cheese in place of the ricotta.
- Swap kale or escarole for the spinach.
- Add diced mushrooms.
- Include chopped pepperoni in the marinara or the filling.
What our tasters said:
“It’s so rich and cheesy, but the spinach makes it healthy, right?” – Scott
I love the seasoning blend in the cheese! It’s got a little kick. – Lisa
Yes. You can assemble the casserole up to one day ahead and refrigerate it. Remove the cheese manicotti from the refrigerator about half an hour before baking — cold stuffed pasta will take longer to cook than at room temperature.
It’s baked manicotti — so in my house, they won’t last long as someone will claim them for lunch. However, they will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.
Yes. I recommend baking it first, letting it cool to room temperature, then covering it well and freezing it for up to two months—Defrost before reheating.
More Italian recipe favorites:
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- disposable piping bag no piping tips required
- 1 13 x 9″ casserole dish or two 1 quart casseroles
- 8 ounce package manicotti noodles
- 4 teaspoons olive oil divided
- ¾ teaspoon dried basil
- ¾ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼-½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal Kosher salt or 1/2 teaspoon Morton’s
- 10 ounce package frozen spinach thawed and squeezed dry
- ½ cup roasted red bell pepper from a jar drained, patted dry and chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
- 2 cups grated mozzarella cheese divided
- ½ cup grated grana padano or parmigiano reggiano
- 1 large egg
- 3 cups marinara sauce
- Preheat the oven to 375° F.
- Cook the manicotti noodles to 2 minutes before “al dente” according to the manufacturers instructions. Drain the noodles and transfer to a rimmed sheet pan. Drizzle with a teaspoon of olive oil to coat and set aside to cool.
- Squeeze all of the liquid out of the spinach until it’s mostly dry. (You can do this with your clean hands, or my preferred method is to wrap it in a clean dish towel, secure the ends and twist and squeeze with a lot of pressure, so the excess liquid leaks out.) Set aside.
- In a large skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes until the garlic softens and is fragrant.
- Stir in the basil, oregano, crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper and cook for one minute until fragrant. Add the spinach and cook, stirring regularly for about 1-2 minutes or until well mixed. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Add the chopped bell pepper to the spinach mixture and stir well to combine.
- Add the ricotta, 1 cup of grated mozzarella and the grana adana cheeses to the spinach mixture. Make a well in the center of the cheese and add the egg. Whisk the egg and gradually incorporate the cheeses and spinach mixture until everything is well blended.
- Transfer the spinach mixture to a large disposable piping bag (or use a quart sized zip top storage bag and seal it.) Snip the end off the bag to allow for a 1/2″ opening.
- Spread 1 to 1½ cups of marinara sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. Set aside.
- Insert the end of the bag into a cooked manicotti noodle and squeeze the filling into the pasta. Transfer the pasta to the baking dish. Continue stuffing the manicotti with the ricotta and spinach mixture, until all the noodles are filled and the casserole is full.
- Spoon the remaining marinara over the pasta and top with the remaining mozzarella cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling. Serve.
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