This traditional manicotti recipe has a four-cheese filling that includes spinach and can be made with or without meat! Your family will adore this freezer meal and make-ahead recipe.
There isn't anything more gratifying than a traditional manicotti dinner when you're in the mood for an Italian feast. (Of course, with a side of garlic bread.) This dish has a phenomenal 4-cheese filling that is unbeatable.
Manicotti must be made with ricotta cheese, though cottage cheese may be used in a pinch. The filling is made incredibly creamy (and not grainy) thanks to the cream cheese. All of it is completed with the best combination of herbs, some garlic for heightened flavor, and mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. The final ingredient is whisked eggs, which bind the filling and give it more body and substance.
Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about this fantastic meal, including how to add meat or spinach!
What is Manicotti
The word "manicotti" means "little sleeves" in Italian and refers to large pasta tubes with ridges on the outside. They are made to be baked after being filled. There is ricotta cheese in the filling, and occasionally there is also spinach or ground meat.
How to Make It
The ingredients for the filling (Ricotta, parmesan cheese, mozzarella, cream cheese, eggs, and seasonings) should be combined in a sizable bowl and left to stand.
Boil the shells of the manicotti for 1 minute less than al dente. Drain and cool water and rinse.
A 9 x 13-inch casserole dish should have the bottom covered with half of the marinara. Each manicotti noodle should be filled with a tiny spoon or piping bag before being placed in the casserole dish. Add the rest of the marinara sauce on top.
Add mozzarella cheese on top.
For 20 minutes, bake with a cover at 375°.
After 10 more minutes of baking, remove the cover.
Broil it for one minute at 425 degrees, if desired; keep an eye on it during this time. Serve with garlic bread and cheese, garnished with parsley.
How to Fill Manicotti Shells
- I like to use a small spoon to fill the manicotti noodle while holding it vertically. I'll shake it a little to help the filling settle into the shell, then I'll keep adding more until it's completely full.
- You can also fill it up to halfway, flip it over, and then fill the remaining space.
- You can also put the filling in a piping bag or a gallon freezer bag and cut the tip to use that instead of a spoon.
- Fresh Spinach– Sauté up to 4 cups of fresh spinach in a little olive oil. (Consider chopping the spinach into smaller pieces.) Let it cool and incorporate it into the cheese mixture.
- Frozen Spinach– Thaw 16 oz. of spinach by running it under warm water. Squeeze out excess moisture and combine it with the cheese mixture.
- Option 1: Make this with my meat sauce recipe instead of regular marinara.
- Option 2: Brown up to 1 pound of ground meat (beef, sausage, turkey, and/or veal), along with ½ cup diced onions, if desired. Let it cool and combine it with the cheese mixture. Note that this will give you more filling, so you may want to fill up more than the 10 shells that are included in this recipe. A 9 x 13-inch casserole dish can typically fit as many as 12 shells.
Make Ahead Method
- Put the dish together as directed, but don't bake it. Add a further 10 to 15 minutes to the covered baking time after covering and chilling for up to a day.
- For up to three months, assemble, cover, and freeze. Allow it to defrost completely in the refrigerator and extend the covered baking time by 10-15 minutes.
For up to 3 days in the fridge or up to 3 months in the freezer, store in an airtight container.
- 10 manicotti shells, boil extra in case some break
- 15 oz. ricotta cheese
- ¾ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 3 ½ cups mozzarella cheese, shredded and divided
- 5 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
- 2 eggs
- 3 cloves garlic
- 24 oz. marinara sauce
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried basil
- ½ teaspoon Salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- Preheat oven to 375°.
- Reserve 1 ½ cups of mozzarella cheese for the top of the manicotti.
- Combine the ricotta, parmesan cheese, remaining mozzarella, cream cheese, eggs, and seasonings in a large bowl. Set aside in the fridge.
- Boil shells in salted water for 1-2 minutes less than al dente, set a timer to avoid overcooking them. Drain in a colander and gently rinse with cold water until the shells are cool. Set aside.
- Spread half of the marinara sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish.
- Use a spoon or a piping bag to fill each manicotti shell, letting a little extend over the top. Transfer the filled shells to the casserole dish.
- Top with remaining marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese.
- Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Remove cover and bake for 10 more minutes. If desired, broil at 425° for 1 minute, watch it carefully during this time. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve with Garlic Bread with Cheese!
- See blog post for instructions on how to add meat and/or spinach.
- Boil extra shells in case some break during the boiling or draining process.
- This is one case where I like to use jarred, finely minced garlic (instead of fresh cloves). The flavor is more subtle which blends into the filling nicely.
- Low moisture whole milk mozzarella melts the best in this recipe, shred it from a block instead of using packaged shredded cheese. It will melt and taste much better.
- I use Dragone for the ricotta/mozzarella, BelGioioso for the Parmesan, and Philadelphia for the cream cheese.
- Rao's is my go-to brand for marinara sauce, (it's really good)!
- Store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
Make Ahead Method
- Assemble the dish as outlined, but do not bake. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day, then add 10-15 minutes to covered baking time.
- Assemble, cover, and freeze for up to 3 months. Let it fully thaw in the fridge and add 10-15 minutes to covered baking time.