stuffed manicotti from scratch (PPN)

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summary: recipe for Manicotti stuffed with spinach, homemade ricotta baked in sauce made with fresh tomatoes; information about Presto Pasta Nights (click on image to see larger views and more photos)

manicotti With oven-ready manicotti and already made tomato sauce, this is truly a Presto Pasta Night dinner.

But a manicotti casserole made from scratch?? Whoa! How can that be a presto dinner??

Luckily, “presto” is a relative term. In this case, think of it as something joyously shouted out after a successful magic trick.

Because that’s really what this feels like. We take flour, eggs, milk, tomatoes, spinach, onions and garlic and with a few shakes of the wand (and some judicious chopping and rolling): “Hey! Presto!!“, we have The Most Wonderful Dinner!

What prompted all this activity? It was because of the new juicer. We had to go to the vegetable store to get more things to put in the juicer….

At the checkout counter, our vegetable store often has stacked trays of what they consider to be over-the-hill tomatoes. On each plastic wrapped styrofoam tray (sigh… I loathe the plastic and styrofoam …but don’t let me get distracted….), there are usually about 8 incredibly ripe tomatoes, defects carefully arranged to be on the bottom out of sight. Each tray is priced at $1 (that’s one Canadian dollar). I don’t know where these tomatoes come from. They might be “organic”. They might not. Sometimes they are plum tomatoes. Sometimes they are vine tomatoes. Sometimes they are a mix.

Who cares? They’re tomatoes.

Once any of the few bruises or black bits have been removed, they actually look like tomatoes. Red. Firm, but not to firm. And here’s the really exciting thing: they actually taste like tomatoes; they’re perfect for making tomato sauce.

And so the other day, when we were getting beets, carrots and apples for the juicer, when we got to the checkout counter, we grabbed a tray of tomatoes. Which was why we suddenly neeeeeeeeded to have Manicotti.

The first time I had manicotti, I had only recently arrived in Toronto. We were rehearsing quartets at a friend’s house. We finished the rehearsal just before dinner and all of us were invited to stay, with the stipulation that we’d help prepare dinner.

Of course we agreed!! And our host checked to see what she had for dinner. Murmuring, she rummaged in the cupboards and shuffled the things around on the shelves in the fridge. Then suddenly she started pulling things out of the fridge, saying, “This will work…. Do you all like manicotti?”

Well. I’d never even heard of manicotti. But when the others cried out happily “Yes!!”, I was game.

And we set about boiling noodles; grating cheese; mixing ricotta, parmesan, eggs, parsley and garlic; pushing ricotta mixture into hot slippery noodles; pouring tomato sauce; tossing salad; etc. etc. After about an hour of laughing, chatting and watching the oven, we sat down to The Most Wonderful Pasta Dinner I Had Ever Tasted.

manicotti recipe And I asked for the recipe. (Recipe? What recipe? You don’t need a recipe for this!!) But at my insistence that I needed a recipe, my friend pulled a spiral notebook out of her case and tore a blank sheet of paper out and handed me the nearest writing utensil out of a jar by the phone. And I scrawled as quickly as I could as she dictated what she had done.

I’ve made this stuffed manicotti many many times. Let me tell you. It’s really wonderful made with store-bought ricotta, store-bought sauce and store-bought pasta. And it’s even better made with homemade tomato sauce.

But I’d never made manicotti with home-made ricotta. And never with homemade pasta. And we thought the manicotti was great before! It’s phenomenal when it’s made with home-made sauce, ricotta and pasta.

manicotti Frankly, using fresh pasta is MUCH easier than trying to stuff the ricotta mixture into store-bought noodles. The oven-ready kind WANT to break. The other kind that have to be par-boiled first WANT to tear. Using either one is an exercise in frustration.

With fresh sheet pasta, all you have to do is plop some filling down onto a sheet, roll it up and put it into the casserole dish seam side down so it won’t unroll. See? WAY easier!

Oh yah. The dishes? All those pots and pans from making the ricotta, tomato sauce, fresh pasta? No worries. We have the girl look after them in the morning. :lalala:

Here’s what T did to make manicotti from scratch:

Stuffed Manicotti made with Fresh Pasta
loosely based on Nancy’s manicotti

enough for 2 hogs

ricotta . fresh pasta . tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes

  • 1 bunch spinach
  • salt
  • 1 c Ricotta cheese, well drained (scroll down for recipe)
  • ⅓ c Mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • fresh parsley, chopped finely
  • dried oregano
  • seasalt and pepper
  • tomato sauce (scroll down for recipe)
  • fresh sheet pasta (scroll down for recipe)
  • more Mozzarella, coarsely grated (for topping)


  1. Wash the spinach well. Put washed spinach (including the stems that look decent) into a colander. Sprinkle with about a tablespoon of salt. Toss to mix and set aside for 20 minutes.
  2. Squeeze out the spinach with your hands til it is quite dry. Discard the juice. Let the spinach rest in colander for a few more minutes. Squeeze again. Do this 3 or 4 times in total. (You’re probably only going to use about half the spinach. Put whatever spinach you won’t be using in the fridge – it keeps for 3 or 4 days.) Rinse the rest of the spinach well in cold water to get rid of all the extra salt. Squeeze out all the water. Taste to be sure there’s no excessive salt.
  3. Chop spinach into bite sized pieces.
  4. Put drained ricotta, grated mozarella, chopped spinach, garlic, oregano, egg and pepper in a bowl. Mix using your hands; it’s easier.
  5. Assembly: Put a thin layer of tomato sauce into a square pyrex casserole dish.
  6. Cut each sheet of pasta into a rectangle and lay it on a board. Spoon some ricotta filling in a line onto one end. Gently roll the pasta into a tube and lay it seam side down in the casserole dish. Repeat, laying the tubes side by side in a single layer on top of the layer of sauce.
  7. Cover noodles with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Scatter a judicious amount of mozzarella overtop.
  8. correction: Bake COVERED at 350F for about 30 minutes 20 minutes and UNCOVERED for about 10 minutes more or until the pasta is tender and cheese is tinged with gold.

Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving with a salad. And red wine if you like.

Here are the individual recipes for the various ingredients for “from scratch” manicotti:

making ricotta Ricotta

  • 1 litre milk
  • juice of ½ lemon (or ~2 Tbsp cider vinegar)
  • 1 tsp seasalt edit 9 April 2010: T didn’t add salt when making the ricotta. He says he didn’t add salt the last time either.
  1. Pour the milk into a pot (we use 3.2%). Stir in lemon juice (or vinegar) and seasalt. Bring to a boil, and immediately turn down the heat. Simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes, until you see curds. Avoid stirring; you want the curds to stay intact. Remove from heat and allow to cool to lukewarm.
  2. Line a sieve (or colander) with several layers of cheesecloth. Pour the contents carefully into the sieve. Gently, gently run it under cold water to rinse away some of the acid. Then put the sieve over a bowl to allow the whey to drain. Leave to drain for 2 hours or so, until the ricotta is dry. (Reserve the whey.*) Refrigerate ricotta until ready to use. (I have no idea how long it keeps but my guess is that it should be eaten sooner rather than later.)

Pastapasta machine

correction: The total amount of flour should work out to 1 cup for every egg

  • ½ c semolina flour
  • correction: 2 Tbsp ¼ c unbleached all-purpose flour
  • correction: 2 Tbsp ¼ c whole wheat flour (or unbleached all-purpose flour)
  • 1 large egg
  1. Mix flours together. Stir egg in with a fork. Knead with hands to form a ball. Cover tightly with plastic and allow to sit on counter for a couple of hours.
  2. Put dough through handcrank pasta maker. Leave as sheets and hang to dry a little.

Tomato Sauce

  • good shot of olive oil
  • chili flakes
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 6 fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • seasalt
  • splash of red wine (optional)
  • dried oregano
  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add chili flakes and oregano and cook for half a minute. Add onion and sauté until the onion is just beginning to get soft. Add the garlic and continue cooking until the garlic just starts to colour.
  2. Add tomatoes, salt, red wine (if using) and oregano (don’t bother peeling or seeding). Turn the heat down to medium low and allow to bubble uncovered until the tomatoes disintegrate. The wine and the salt will help a lot with this process.


» The wholewheat flour in the pasta dough helps make it less reluctant to stick to itself. Please note that fresh pasta should be left UNcooked before rolling it into tubes and filling it. Unless you love mushy manicotti. In which case, by all means, be my guest and parboil it before filling it.

» Half the people in our household like to drink whey produced after making ricotta and claim that it tastes wonderfully refreshing (not this half…). But 100% of the inhabitants agree that whey is perfect for cooking lentils.

» Mushrooms are a nice addition to the tomato sauce too. We just didn’t happen to get any this time round. Please note that extra tomato sauce is excellent for pizza as well. You will likely have some left over. In fact, you may want to make lots of tomato sauce on purpose. Then you can use the extra to make more manicotti.

» Any extra ricotta filling is very good in torte verde.

» You likely won’t be using up all the pasta either. This too can be kept in the fridge and is perfect for lunch the next day. Toss it in some of the extra tomato sauce!

Presto Pasta Nights - every FridayPresto Pasta Nights #158

Over three years ago, Ruth (Once Upon a Feast) created this weekly event for people to share their favourite pasta dishes. There are often guest hosts nowadays, but this week, Ruth herself is hosting. And I think I’m just under the wire even though it’s already Friday on the east coast.

For complete details on how to participate in Presto Pasta Nights (PPN), please read the following:

  • How to Join PPN
  • Who’s Hosting PPN?


edit 9 April: Correction!!! Correction!!! It turns out that for some time I have had an error in the amount of flour to use for pasta made with one egg. After a fair amount of slightly frustrated discussion, here is the upshot: the amounts of flour for the pasta may differ from day to day. Depending on the weather and the size of eggs, you may have to add a little water or more flour. Our rule of thumb is: one cup of flour for every egg.

2nd edit 9 April: Ruth has posted the PPN#158 round up. Moan… more wonderful looking pasta. (I wonder if we should switch to having FOUR meals a day so we can fit all these extra pasta dishes in. :-))

9 responses to “stuffed manicotti from scratch (PPN)

  1. Baking Soda

    This sounds like something they would certainly love in my house! I have made ricotta once before but it was quite dry and firm, not as soft as the store bought. Do you think I’ve drained it too much? I sure like to try again. Oh I used a jelly bag thing (cheesecloth) to drain the ricotta not a colander.

  2. Ruth

    You’re never too late to share a wonderful dish with Presto Pasta Nights.

    Great post and I’m with you about all that tearing and breaking. I always use flat noodles (either store bought – hey, easy is a good thing) or homemade and roll them up. Thanks for sharing your version.

  3. Cynthia

    I wish I had a pasta machine so I can make fresh pasta! I’ve been meaning to make manicotti and this delicious looking recipe is totally inspiring me to try making it now!

  4. Joanne

    My dad took it upon himself to make homemade manicotti for Easter and they were delicious, setting off a serious craving. Yours looks fantastic! I’m going to have to try this version.

  5. katie

    I want to make manicotti – but I refuse to use store-bought noodles and have been too lazy to make my own.
    Now I’m feeling guilty and even lazier. But (she says, perking up) now I have to wait until August so I can have decent tomatoes….. And mon mari refuses to eat baked pasta dishes after April 1. Summer cooking commences.

  6. Judith in Umbria

    I am a dedicated from-scratch Italian cook, but even I don’t make my own ricotta! Complimenti!

    Actually I am blessed because in the hills behind my house live thousands of sheep whose only job is to make milk for Pecorino and Ricotta. They dont actually make the cheese, but without them where would I be?

    I love Toronto and having to buy artichokes at the supermarket seems a small price for living there.

  7. Sweet Kitchen

    I can’t believe you made your own ricotta – I’m impressed! I love stuffed pasta and yours looks absolutely delicious.

    In southern Italy, where my family is from, this pasta is known as cannelloni and manicotti are rolled in a crepe rather than pasta and are generally served with a white sauce.

  8. ejm Post author

    I too am wondering if you drained your ricotta for too long, Karen. We line a strainer with a couple of layers of our cheesecloth, which is quite loosely woven. (photograph of ricotta in cheesecloth here)

    Thank you for your lenience, Ruth!

    Cynthia, you can certainly make this using storebought fresh pasta (the kind that is sold in the dairy case – get the sheets for making lasagne). But I do highly recommend getting a pasta maker – the Italian handcrank kind. They’re not horrible costly and they produce the most wonderful pasta.

    Cool that your dad made manicotti for Easter, Joanne. It would be really interesting to hear how the two versions differ.

    So many rules, Katie! Couldn’t you “bake” the manicotti in the barbecue? Then it could be categorized as “summer food”. And I completely understand everything there is to know about laziness! But store bought pasta isn’t necessarily terrible. You just have to make sure that it has been rolled enough times. (We once purchased some appallingly bad fresh pasta from a store that supposedly made “The Best Pasta”. It was grainy – clearly, it had not been put through the rollers enough times.)

    Tanna, we THOUGHT we had saved some for you but somebody ate it for lunch. (We’ll just have to make more… :-)).

    Thank you, Judith! Now you must try making your own ricotta. While I’m certain that you get wonderful ricotta in Umbria, home-made ricotta is a revelation. It’s insanely easy to make and so satisfying. We love how light and fluffy it is in comparison to most store-bought versions. And I’m pretty sure it’s less costly to make your own too.

    Thank you for the definition, SweetKitchen. I thought the difference between cannelloni and manicotti was simply a size thing. (Now I want to try manicotti with a white sauce. Must find out what they are generally stuffed with….)



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