I’ve never prepared baked manicotti before. Actually, I can’t even remember the last time I ate baked manicotti. Though I’m sure I’ve enjoyed it somewhere down the line, I have no recollection of it. I do, however, recall helping either my mother or Laura pull apart lasagna noodles after they bonded to each other in boiling water. That was always fun. Burning the tips of my fingers in an attempt to peel half hard, half soft, pieces of pasta from one another. If you’ve ever cooked up some Italian food, I’m sure you’ve run into this issue. I think this memory is what scares many folks away from this dish. Those lasagna noodles.
The recipe I’m about to show you below comes from America’s Test Kitchen and is the last in the Classic Sauces & Pasta section. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the courses so far and if you’re in the market to try your hand at learning many tricks of the trade, I encourage you to sign up for some learning yourself. Every time I successfully prepare a recipe like the one on this page, I get a warm feeling of satisfaction.
I think the primary difference between this recipe and others is the fact that this one uses no-boil lasagna noodles. From what I gather, using traditional ones is a nightmare. I’ll tell you, it didn’t take all too long to put this dish together and if I managed to get it done, I’m sure many of you talented home cooks could do it as well. And probably much better than I ever could.
The first part of the recipe is almost a rehash of the tomato sauce one I already posted. Since there are a few minor differences, I decided to show you all the steps involved on this page as opposed to simply referring you to the other recipe and then asking you to come back. It’s much simpler this way.
4 Tablespoons (Half stick) Unsalted Butter
1 Medium Sized Onion (I used sweet)
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
Regular Table Salt
4 Garlic Cloves Crushed
2 (28-Ounce) Cans Crushed Tomatoes
1/2 Teaspoon Sugar
1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Basil Leaves
2 Tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Ground Black Pepper
Filling & Pasta Ingredients
3 Cups Ricotta Cheese
4 Ounces Parmesan Cheese Grated
8 Ounces Mozzarella Cheese Shredded
2 Large Eggs
3/4 Teaspoon Regular Table Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley Leaves Chopped
2 Tablespoons Fresh Basil Leaves Chopped
16 No-Boil Lasagna Noodles (I used Prince)
As usual, try to prep as many ingredients as possible before things start to speed up. Luckily, this is a fairly straightforward and non-stressful recipe, so you should be okay.
If you want to learn more about why we grate the onion instead of chop it, I suggest you take a quick peek at my basic tomato sauce recipe. I go into more detail in that post. Either way, go ahead and grate the correct amount of onion. You’ll need at least 1/2 cup worth. Now, don’t go nuts trying to prepare the exact amount. I went over and things turned out wonderfully. Onion is one of those ingredients that shrinks and breaks down, so you almost can’t add too much.
Mince or Crush Garlic
If you like garlic, either crush or mince the 4 cloves. As tasty as garlic is, I decided to pass on it this time because I’ve got a Jiu-Jitsu class to teach tonight and I decided to spare my fellow students. Ordinarily though, I certainly would’ve added it.
If you have lots of fresh basil, now’s the time to chop it. My basil/parsley mixture has been working well and saving some money, so I did a half and half mixture between the two. Whichever you choose, you’ll need to chop at least 6 tablespoons.
I’m not sure you can see it in the above photo, but the basil is hidden underneath the curly parsley.
Melt Butter – Add Onions & Oregano
In a large saucepan, melt the 4 tablespoons of non-salted butter over medium heat.
Once the butter is completely melted, go ahead and add the 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano, the 1/2 cup of grated onion and 1 teaspoon regular table salt.
Once all the ingredients are together, cook over medium heat until the onions begin to brown. Here’s a photo about half way through.
If you decided to go with garlic, add it once the onions are brown. Cook the garlic over the same temperature for 30 seconds to 1 minute. You just want to begin to smell them.
Add Crushed Tomatoes, Sugar & Heat
At this point, go ahead and add both 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes and a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar to the saucepan.
Stir everything together. Once the ingredients are stirred, increase the heat to high until the sauce begins to boil. Once it does, reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes.
Now, I’ve got a trick for you that will help avoid the initial splattering of tomato sauce all over the place. When you first bring the heat to high, you’ll get a lot of bubbles that will break at the surface of the sauce. Those are the ones that will cause a mess. If you vigorously stir the sauce at this point, you’ll break the bubbles under the surface of the sauce, therefore avoiding the splatter. Once you lower the heat to medium-low, you can stop stirring so vigorously and let things simmer. You’ll still need to occasionally stir, but it’ll be less frequent.
You’ll need 2 cups of grated Parmesan cheese, so have at it. Grate the 4 ounces and set aside for later use.
In case you’re interested, 8 ounces of mozzarella cheese if half of the traditional package you’d find in the dairy aisle of the grocery store. To get the necessary amount, I simply sliced the entire package in half with my chef’s knife and grated the 2 cups from there.
In a small bowl, mix 2 eggs. Set aside for later use.
After the eggs are mixed, chop another 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley.
Mix Pasta Filling
This is where things start to get fun. In a medium sized bowl, go ahead and mix the 3 cups of ricotta cheese, 1 cup of the Parmesan cheese, both (2) cups of the mozzarella cheese, both (2) mixed eggs, 3/4 teaspoon of regular table salt, 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper, 2 tablespoons of chopped basil and 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley.
Set the bowl aside for later use.
Add Basil, Oil, Salt & Pepper to Sauce
By this point, the sauce should be finished simmering. Go ahead and remove it from the heat. Add the remaining chopped basil or the basil/parsley mixture, the 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir these final ingredients into the sauce.
In a 13″x9″ casserole, pour about 1 inch of boiling water. Then, add the 16 no-boil lasagna noodles to the water and let rest for a few minutes until the noodles become soft.
It really doesn’t take very long for these noodles to soften. When mine were finished, there were a few that held on to each other, but really, they were fairly easy to separate. After they were soft, I removed each noodle from the water in the casserole and rested them separately on a few dry dish cloths. Also, I emptied the water from the casserole and made sure it was dry before beginning the next step.
Add Sauce to Casserole
This dish is going to be presented in three layers. The first is sauce, the next is pasta and the last is sauce again, with some cheese sprinkled on top. So, for this step, add about 1 1/2 (one and a half) cups of sauce to the casserole until the entire bottom is evenly covered.
This would be a good time to preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Prepare Filled Pasta
Since the pasta is now soft, out of the water and ready for use, go ahead and add 1/4 cup of the cheese filling to each one. I recommend laying all pieces of pasta out next to each other and putting a blob of filling on each one before doing any rolling. This way, you can be sure they are all evenly filled. Also, you only want to apply the filling to the lower portion of the noodle. The top quarter should remain empty to allow for easier rolling.
As you can see, I’m no artist. I eventually used a rubber spatula to smooth everything out, which made life easier.
After all the pieces of pasta had filling evenly applied to them, I rolled them up and added them to the casserole.
I did this in two rows.
As you’re placing each piece into the casserole, be sure that the seam is facing down towards the sauce.
Top with Sauce & Bake
Finally, add the remaining sauce to the top of the pasta and spread it out so you can’t see any of the noodles.
Cover the casserole with aluminum foil.
And bake in oven for about 40 minutes.
Add Cheese & Broil
Once the tomato sauce is bubbling inside the casserole, remove it from the oven and remove the aluminum foil. At this point, turn off the oven and turn on the broiler. Use high heat. Add the remaining Parmesan cheese to the top of the tomato sauce and place in oven, uncovered for about 5 more minutes, or until the cheese begins to brown.
After the cheese has browned, remove the baked manicotti from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.
The Final Product
Anyone who knows baked manicotti, knows how good it can be. This is good.
I like the fact that it’s liberally covered with sauce. It gives it lots of flavor.
After I cut a piece open, it got even better.
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