I got this recipe from my mother, and I make it occasionally out of nostalgia, and also out of a love of cheese. I don’t make it too often, because it is very similar to my mom’s recipe for stuffed pasta shells, but stuffed pasta shells also have spinach and, to me, a more pleasing shape. Still, this is a good, simple, friendly recipe, almost guaranteed to be inoffensive to everyone who doesn’t hate cheese, tomato sauce, or pasta. And besides, stuffing things into other things is not only fun, but will also make your food seem much fancier than it in fact is—thus, this is a good dish to make for guests, especially since you can stuff the manicotti ahead of time. Pour on the sauce, throw them in the oven when you’re ready to sere, make a side salad, and you’re all set.
14 manicotti shells (usually, this is 1 package)
1½ cups cottage cheese or ricotta cheese (I prefer cottage cheese; it's moister and creamier)
1¼ cups shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus extra to taste
2 beaten eggs
¼ teaspoon pepper
16 ounces canned tomato sauce
½ teaspoon each dried basil and oregano
¼ teaspoon fennel seed
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil on the stove, and then add the manicotti, cook them until al dente, drain them, and rinse them in cold water until they're cool enough to handle.
3. Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a large bowl, then add the ricotta/cottage cheese, mozzarella, Parmesan, and pepper. Use a small spoon to stuff this mixture into the manicotti shells when they're ready, and then place the stuffed manicotti in a shallow 9x13” baking dish. At this point you can throw the dish into the refrigerator if you’ll be serving it later, or you can even put the manicotti on a baking sheet instead of in the dish, throw the baking sheet in the freezer, wait until the manicotti harden, put them in a Ziplock bag, and then store them in the freezer until some later date.
3. When ready to cook, mix the tomato sauce with the basil, oregano, and fennel and then pour over the manicotti. Put the baking dish, uncovered, into the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the sauce is warm and bubbly and just slightly cooked down, and the cheeses look melted. Sprinkle a little Parmesan over the top and bake for 5 more minutes.
Serves: 4 (3.5 manicotti per serving), or more if you want smaller servings
Time: 1 hour