My husband loves manicotti. I never knew until one day he asked if I would make some for us. It wasn’t something I’d made a lot in the past, so I had a few things to consider…
I had to think about what stuffing I would use to fill the pasta. My husband likes meat filling more than a simple cheese, so I knew I’d be doing a meat filled version. I decided on beef and to enhance the flavor even further, I add sautéed carrots, celery, onion and garlic to the meat. The vegetables create a rich layering of flavor that cuts in perfectly with the ricotta.
I also decided to use my homemade tomato sauce for this rather than a fresh, chunkier styled one. I tend to gravitate towards this sauce anyway, not just because it’s my favorite, but because the simplicity of it lends well to a more complex ingredient list. The meat and cheese mix should shine here, with the sauce as a compliment. My sauce provides a pure tomato taste that works really well with the rich beef and cheese pasta. The sauce also soaks into the pasta shells while the manicotti is baking, flavoring all the way through.
1 box manicotti shells
1 lb ground beef
1 medium onion
2 celery stalks
3 garlic cloves
5 cups tomato sauce
8 oz whole milk ricotta
6 oz mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese + more for top
5 sprigs fresh parsley
salt + pepper
Using a food processor, separately chop carrots, celery, onions and garlic. Set aside.
Heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan, add the finely chopped celery, carrots, onion and garlic mixing thoroughly. Salt veggie mix with salt and pepper and cook for several minutes. Remove from heat and return pan to stove.
Adding 1 tablespoon olive oil, add beef to pan. Break meat apart with a fork and season with oregano, salt and pepper. When nearly all pink is gone, drain fat. Return pan to heat and add carrots, celery, onions and garlic, stirring to combine. Continue cooking for several minutes. Taste for seasoning. Set mixture aside and let cool.
Preheat oven to 375 F and heat water to boil manicotti. Once water is boiling, cook manicotti until just UNDER al dente. The pasta will continue to cook in the oven later. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside until ready to stuff.
After your meat mixture has cooled, add the egg, ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan and mix thoroughly. Taste again for any seasoning adjustments.
Ladle some tomato sauce into the bottom of your casserole dish. Take a manicotti shell and stuff it with beef and cheese mixture. Using your hands is the best method for stuffing the pasta. Repeat with remaining manicotti. If you have left over filling, stuff into stuffed shells and freeze for later.
After you are finished stuffing your manicotti, ladle tomato sauce on top and cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes and remove foil. Continue baking for additional 20-25 minutes or until sauce bubbles.
After removing manicotti from the oven, grate fresh Parmesan over the pasta and sprinkle with fresh parsley.