Make-Ahead Manicotti

With a little advance prep this Make-Ahead Manicotti will be ready to pop in the oven when you’re ready for dinner. This no-boil, make-ahead method is a real lifesaver on busy days!

Manicotti and salad on a white plate.

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 super satisfying, meatless meal 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.

Manicotti, salad and toast on a white plate.

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 vegetarian 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.

Ingredients

All the ingredients needed to make Manicotti with text overlay.
  • You will need 12 uncooked manicotti shells for this recipe.
  • Use your favorite store-bought or homemade marinara sauce. Look for a reduced sodium sauce to significantly reduce the amount of sodium in this recipe.
  • Keep things light by using part-skim mozzarella and ricotta cheese. Or go for the full-fat variety – your choice!
  • Look for a box of chopped frozen spinach in the frozen veggie section of your grocery store.

Prep the Ingredients

  • Wring out and drain the excess liquid from the completely thawed spinach by wrapping it in a double layer of paper towels and squeeze it tightly with your hands over the sink. Squeeze out as much of the excess liquid as you can to prevent the spinach from watering down the filling.
  • Shred the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
  • Mince your garlic, if using fresh.

Make the Spinach and Cheese Filling

Cheese and spinach filling in a mixing bowl.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta cheese and eggs until blended.
  • Stir in the drained spinach, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, minced garlic, onion powder, salt and pepper

Fill the Manicotti

Filling is piped from a plastic bag into manicotti shells.
  • Spoon the filling into a gallon-size plastic storage bag to create a disposable makeshift pastry bag.
  • Grab some kitchen shears and snip off the corner from one of the bottom edges of the bag.
  • You can now quickly and easily squeeze the filling into the uncooked manicotti shells and toss the bag when you’re finished.
Manicotti in a baking dish topped with marinara sauce.
  • Coat the bottom of a 13- x 9-inch baking dish with marinara sauce and placed the uncooked, filled manicotti shells on top of the sauce.
  • Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the filled pasta, being sure it is covered completely.

Refrigerate the Manicotti

  • Cover the dish with foil and pop it in the fridge. You can assemble the casserole the day before and refrigerate it overnight or you can prepare it to this point in the morning and bake it that same evening for dinner.

Bake the Manicotti

  • Transfer the foil-covered dish to a preheated 400 degree F oven for 40 minutes.
Manicotti in a baking dish topped with sauce and cheese.
  • Remove the foil and sprinkle the manicotti with the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
  • Return it to the oven, uncovered, and bake until the cheese has melted.
A spatula scoops manicotti from a baking dish.

Cook’s Tips and FAQ’s

How long can I refrigerate the manicotti before baking?

I recommend you bake the casserole within 24 to 32 hours for the best result.

Can I bake the manicotti right away?

Topping the uncooked manicotti with marinara will begin the process of slightly softening it before baking. I recommend you refrigerate it for at least 8 hours so the pasta can soften slightly in advance and become perfectly tender when it is baked.

Can I freeze uncooked manicotti?

Yes! Assemble the dish as directed in a freezer-safe dish. Cover it tightly with a double layer of foil and freeze it for up to two months. To cook, safely thaw it in the refrigerator overnight. Allow it to rest on the counter for about 30 minutes before baking to take the chill off. Baking time may need to be increased a bit to fully cook the manicotti. An instant read thermometer inserted in the center of the filling should read 165 degrees F before removing it from the oven.

How many manicotti shells come in one box?

An 8 ounce box should include at least 12 shells but this can very depending on the brand.

Filling Variations

You can customize the filling with a variety of different ingredients to suit your taste. If you add substantial ingredients like ground meat or chunky vegetables you might need to use a spoon to fill the manicotti shells instead of a pastry bag.

  • Add chopped fresh mushrooms.
  • Substitute half of the mozzarella with shredded provolone for some really nice flavor.
  • A little (about 1/3 to 1/2 pound) cooked, crumbled Italian sausage – I like to use turkey or chicken sausage to reduce fat and calories.
  • Finely chopped rotisserie chicken (fully-cooked chicken) is also a great choice.
  • Omit the spinach and add some fresh basil for a simply luscious cheese manicotti.
  • If adding substantial ingredients, you may end up with enough filling to fill more than one box of shells.
A fork lifts a bite of manicotti.

What to Serve with Make-Ahead Manicotti

Toss a simple green salad and pop some Cheater Garlic Bread in the oven to round out this meal.

More great side dish choices include my Butter Lettuce Salad with Grapes and Gorgonzola, Zucchini and Sweet Corn with Feta, or Balsamic Grilled Zucchini.

A plate of manicotti and salad in front on a dinner table.

This post was originally published on December 8, 2015. It has been updated with new text and images.

Manicotti, salad and toast on a white plate.
Print

Make-Ahead Manicotti

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!

Course Main Course, Pasta

Cuisine Italian

minutes

minutes

hours

hours minutes

Servings 6 servings

Calories 552kcal

  • 15 ounces ricotta cheese (part-skim or regular)
  • 2 eggs
  • 9 ounces frozen chopped spinach thawed (squeeze out excess liquid)
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese divided (part-skim or whole milk)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese divided
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces uncooked manicotti shells (12 shells)
  • 36 ounces marinara sauce (I used 1-1/2 (24 ounce) jars)
  • In a medium bowl, combine the 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 marinara sauce over the bottom of a baking dish, spreading it out evenly. 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 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 until the cheese has melted and is beginning to get light golden brown.

Nutrition information was calculated with part-skim ricotta and mozzarella and reduced sodium marinara sauce. I recommend you refrigerate the casserole for at least 8 hours or up to 32 hours for the best result. Optional Filling Ingredients You can customize the filling with a variety of different ingredients to suit your taste. If you add substantial ingredients like ground meat or chunky vegetables you might need to use a spoon to fill the manicotti shells instead of a pastry bag.
  • Add chopped fresh mushrooms.
  • Substitute half of the mozzarella with shredded provolone for some really nice flavor.
  • A little (about 1/3 to 1/2 pound) cooked, crumbled Italian sausage – I like to use turkey or chicken sausage to reduce fat and calories.
  • Finely chopped rotisserie chicken (fully-cooked chicken) is also a great choice.
  • Omit the spinach and add some fresh basil for a simply luscious cheese manicotti.
Freezer Instructions
  • Assemble the dish as directed in a freezer-safe dish. Cover it tightly with a double layer of foil and freeze it for up to two months. To cook, safely thaw it in the refrigerator overnight. Allow it to rest on the counter for about 30 minutes before baking to take the chill off. Baking time may need to be increased a bit to fully cook the manicotti. An instant read thermometer inserted in the center of the filling should read 165 degrees F before removing it from the oven.
Serving: 2shells | Calories: 552kcal | Carbohydrates: 46g | Protein: 36g | Fat: 24g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 120mg | Sodium: 977mg | Potassium: 398mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 5701IU | Vitamin C: 7mg | Calcium: 794mg | Iron: 2mg

Adapted from Allrecipes.com

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