Manicotti is my husband’s favorite dish. And that’s saying something for someone who is mostly indifferent to what he eats. In fact, he judges every italian restaurant we visit based on the quality of their manicotti. I’ve rarely seen him order anything else if it is on the menu, and I know I have a captive audience if I make it at home. This recipe happens to be pretty good, and I will definitely be making it again with just a few changes. You can see I didn’t use the authentic manicotti pasta – the long thin tubes that are typical. Not that I have anything against them, they’re just really hard to fill. I used the jumbo shells because I can just spoon the filling into them instead of having to try to pipe it into the tubes without splitting them open. Also, the recipe I used (from Saveur.com) called for a whole teaspoon of fresh grated nutmeg, which we found to be a little much. Actually, it was almost overpowering when we first tasted it a few minutes out of the oven, but I found that when I ate the leftovers the next day it had settled down into something a little more palatable, but I would still decrease the amount the 1/2 – 3/4 tsp next time.
While the dish as a whole was a success, the real star of the show was the tomato sauce. Again, I got my recipe from Saveur, but what made it so awesome was the tomatoes. I had canned some of my crop from last summer, and if I can help it I will never buy generic ones again. It was like opening up a can of summer when I popped the lid. This was by far the best marinara sauce I have ever made, and while it was fairly simple, with just a few key seasonings, the tomatoes really shone through. They were so fresh and bright, the most vibrant flavor I’ve had since we had fresh produce last year. Actually, my “uninterested in food” husband remarked that the sauce had a “rustic” taste – which made my day since that was exactly what I was going for. The sauce cooks up in less than half an hour, and would be easily adaptable to almost anything that called for marinara – it would be perfect over a simple bowl of spaghetti, for example, or in a lasagna, or even on pizza. Do what you will with it, but definitely make it soon. With the freshest tomatoes you can find.
Makes about 3 cups
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes – I used a quart jar of canned tomatoes from my pantry
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1⁄2 small onion, finely chopped
1⁄2 tsp. dried oregano
1⁄4 tsp. dried thyme
1 tbsp. finely chopped
curly or flat-leaf parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground
black pepper, to taste
Put tomatoes and their liquid into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Set aside.
Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, bay leaf, and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
Add the chopped tomatoes along with the oregano and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly and its flavors come together, about 20 minutes. Stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper.
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 cups Angelo’s Marinara Sauce
1 8-oz. box dried manicotti shells (about 14)
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 cups whole-milk ricotta
1 cup grated parmesan
7 tbsp. chopped curly or flat-leaf parsley
1 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
1⁄2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
2 eggs, beaten
Grease a 9″ x 13″ baking pan with 1 tbsp. butter and spread 1⁄2 cup of the marinara sauce across the bottom of the pan. Set aside. Bring a 6-qt. pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the manicotti and cook until just tender, about 8 minutes. Drain manicotti and rinse under cold water; set aside.
Heat oven to 450°. Heat remaining butter in a 12″ skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer garlic to a medium bowl along with the ricotta, 1⁄2 cup parmesan, 5 tbsp. chopped parsley, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and eggs and stir to combine.
Spoon some of the filling into both openings of each manicotti shell. (Alternatively, transfer the ricotta mixture to a 1-gallon resealable plastic bag, snip off a bottom corner of the bag, and pipe filling into pasta.) Repeat with remaining manicotti shells. Transfer stuffed manicotti to prepared baking dish, making 2 rows. Spread the remaining marinara sauce over the manicotti and sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Bake until hot and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining parsley. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.