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With a little advance prep, this Make-Ahead Manicotti will be ready to pop in the oven when you’re ready for dinner. The no-boil, make-ahead method is a real lifesaver on busy days!
Long before the scores of one-pot pasta dishes started hitting all the recipe sites, I came across this make-ahead method for preparing manicotti. It was the first pasta dish I ever cooked that skipped the step of boiling the pasta and it was truly a revelation to this busy mom of four.
Once I discovered this method, this dish appeared frequently on our table when my guys were involved in high school sports. During water polo season, I was spending my early evening hours on the pool deck and needed dinner, pronto, when we walked in the door. The guys were hungry and tired and Make-Ahead Manicotti was always a happy thing to come home to.
Walk in the door, pop it in the oven, and while it’s baking you can get to work on a salad or veggie side. A warm, satisfying pasta meal is on your table in under an hour. Fabulous!
I’m sharing the base recipe for a 3-cheese and spinach filling, but you could really change things up here and add or substitute a variety of ingredients to suit your taste. See the recipe below for my suggestions. I’ve done this recipe lots of different ways and they’ve all been delicious.
First, a couple of quick ingredient notes.
This Barilla Manicotti is the variety available at my local Safeway and it comes in a 14-count which is just what you’ll need for this recipe. You’ll also need some jarred pasta sauce and this Mezzetta Marinara is my favorite at the moment. Pick up a jar and read the ingredient list and you’ll see why. There’s nothing weird in there. They use San Marzano tomatoes, fresh onions, garlic, and basil, and sea salt, and it is really, really good. It goes on sale frequently and I always stock up when it does.
As I look at this image, I realize it may be one of the strangest I’ve included in a post to date – but stay with me.
The recipe calls for a package of chopped, frozen spinach and this is the best technique I’ve found for effectively wringing out the excess liquid. Once it has completely thawed, remove the spinach from it’s packaging and wrap it in a double layer of paper towels and then squeeze the whole mess tightly with your hands over the sink. Squeeze out as much of the excess liquid as you can. We don’t want that liquid watering down our recipe. The picture above was taken after the squeezing process.
Freshly squeezed spinach, ready to go!
The filling consists of ricotta, a couple of eggs, mozzarella, Parmesan, spinach, some minced garlic, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Creamy, cheesy, goodness. I always use part-skim ricotta and mozzarella to keep the fat content down a bit. It’s an easy way to do it and as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t affect the quality even one tiny bit. So there. But that’s me; use what you like!
Create a makeshift pastry bag by spooning the filling into a gallon-size plastic storage bag.
Grab some kitchen shears and snip off the corner from one of the bottom edges of the bag.
Voila! We have a pastry bag. You can now quickly and easily fill the manicotti shells and toss the bag when you’re finished.
Coat the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ baking dish with your favorite jarred marinara sauce and placed the filled, uncooked manicotti shells on top of the sauce. Yes, uncooked! It works, I promise. Just set them in the dish any which way they fit best.
Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the filled pasta, being sure it is covered completely. Now, just cover the dish with foil and pop it in the fridge. This can be done the day before and refrigerated overnight or you can prepare it to this point in the morning and bake it that same evening for dinner.
When you’re ready to go just pop the covered dish in a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle on a little more mozzarella and Parmesan cheese and return it to the oven, uncovered, to finish it off for an additional 5 or 10 minutes.
- 1 15 ounce container part-skim ricotta cheese
- 2 eggs
- 1 9 ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed (squeeze out excess liquid)
- 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese divided
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese divided
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 14 uncooked manicotti shells
- 36 ounces marinara sauce I used 1-1/2 24 ounce jars
- In a medium bowl, combine together ricotta cheese and eggs until blended. Stir in spinach, 2 cups mozzarella cheese, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, minced garlic, onion powder, salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to a gallon sized sealable plastic storage bag. Use scissors to cut off the tip from one of the bottom corners of the bag.
- Spread about 1-1/2 cups of the marinara sauce in the bottom of a baking dish. Use the makeshift pastry bag to squeeze the spinach and cheese mixture into the uncooked manicotti shells. Arrange the stuffed shells on top of the marinara sauce in a single layer. Pour remaining sauce over the top, being sure that all of the pasta is covered well. Cover the dish with foil and refrigerate for at least 7 or 8 hours or overnight.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake covered for 40 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, and bake uncovered for another 7 to 10 minutes or util cheese has melted and is beginning to get light golden brown.
- Adapted from Allrecipes.com