Manicotti Recipe: A Step-by-Step Guide to a Classic Italian Dish

Manicotti is a traditional Italian-American dish that translates to “little sleeves” in Italian. These large pasta tubes are typically filled with a rich ricotta cheese mixture, topped with marinara sauce, and baked to perfection. This hearty and comforting dish is a favorite for family dinners, special occasions, and potlucks. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the history of manicotti, provide a detailed recipe, and share some tips and variations to make your manicotti truly exceptional.

The History of Manicotti

Manicotti, as known in the United States, has roots in traditional Italian cuisine but has evolved into a distinct dish in its own right. The Italian equivalent, cannelloni, is similar but typically features a different pasta and filling. Manicotti became popular in the United States in the mid-20th century as Italian-American cuisine gained widespread popularity. It has since become a staple in many households, beloved for its rich flavors and comforting qualities.


To make a classic manicotti, you will need the following ingredients:

For the Pasta and Filling:

  • 14 manicotti shells
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups chopped spinach (fresh or frozen, thawed and drained)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the Marinara Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh basil or parsley for garnish (optional)


1. Prepare the Marinara Sauce:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the minced garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
  3. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. Mix well.
  4. Add the dried basil, dried oregano, sugar, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine.
  5. Bring the sauce to a simmer and let it cook on low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasoning to taste. Set aside.

2. Cook the Manicotti Shells:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the manicotti shells and cook according to package instructions until al dente.
  2. Drain the shells and rinse them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside to cool.

3. Prepare the Filling:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, 1 cup of mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, and the beaten egg.
  2. Add the chopped spinach, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and ground nutmeg. Mix until all ingredients are well incorporated.

4. Fill the Manicotti Shells:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C).
  2. Spread a thin layer of marinara sauce on the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish.
  3. Using a small spoon or a piping bag, carefully fill each manicotti shell with the ricotta mixture. Place the filled shells in the baking dish in a single layer.
  4. Pour the remaining marinara sauce over the filled shells, ensuring they are well covered.
  5. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese evenly over the top.

5. Bake the Manicotti:

  1. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.
  2. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
  3. Let the manicotti rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

6. Serve and Garnish:

  1. Garnish the manicotti with fresh basil or parsley, if desired.
  2. Serve hot with a side of garlic bread and a fresh salad for a complete meal.

Tips and Variations

  1. Cheese Variations: While ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan are classic, you can experiment with other cheeses like fontina or asiago for a different flavor profile.
  2. Meat Lovers: Add cooked ground beef, Italian sausage, or pancetta to the filling for a heartier dish.
  3. Vegetarian Delight: Incorporate other vegetables like mushrooms, zucchini, or bell peppers into the filling for added nutrition and flavor.
  4. Sauce Options: Swap the marinara sauce with a creamy Alfredo or pesto sauce for a different twist on this classic dish.
  5. Make-Ahead: Prepare the manicotti up to the point of baking, then cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Bake as directed when ready to serve.
  6. Freezing: Manicotti can be assembled and frozen for up to 3 months. To bake from frozen, cover with foil and bake at 375°F (190°C) for about 45 minutes, then uncover and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes.

Nutritional Information

Here is the approximate nutritional information per serving (based on a recipe serving 6 people):

  • Calories: 450
  • Protein: 25g
  • Carbohydrates: 40g
  • Fat: 22g
  • Saturated Fat: 12g
  • Cholesterol: 85mg
  • Sodium: 1000mg
  • Fiber: 4g
  • Sugar: 8g


Manicotti is a delightful dish that brings the warmth and comfort of Italian cuisine to your dining table. Whether you stick to the traditional recipe or add your personal twist, this dish is sure to be a hit with family and friends. With its creamy filling, savory sauce, and melted cheese, manicotti offers a delicious and satisfying meal that can be enjoyed on any occasion. Happy cooking!