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Three-Cheese Manicotti with Tomato Sauce

Serves 4 to 6

This baked stuffed pasta is so good! There are several choices, depending on your taste. In Italy, the idea is that the filling or sauce are meant to complement the pasta and, therefore, should be somewhat sparse. In America, most people are more interested in the stuffing and sauce. The amount of stuffing in this recipe will very lightly fill an eight ounce package of manicotti. If you want more stuffing, double the amount or just use six to eight manicotti shells, about 4 ounces. Try it as is and you might be pleasantly surprised. I prefer to make my own sauce, but you can use about three cups of your favorite bottled marinara sauce. For a delightfully rich and creamy variation, see the Four-Cheese Spinach Manicotti with Sherry Bechamel Sauce in the similar and related recipes.

Ingredients

   Sauce    Filling

For the sauce, heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and onions. Sauté until onions are softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the tomatoes, basil, parsley, salt and pepper. Cook just until the mixture is hot, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let set until needed.

Preheat oven to 400° F. Grease a 13x9x2-inch baking dish with olive oil or olive oil spray. Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the 1 tablespoon olive oil and onions. Sauté until onions are softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Remove from heat and cool slightly. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, 4 tablespoons Parmesan, 4 tablespoons Romano, cooled onion mixture, basil, parsley, salt and pepper. Using a small spoon or a piping bag, stuff each manicotti shell with about 2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture. Place side-by-side in the baking dish. Top with the tomato sauce, then the remaining Parmesan and Romano cheeses. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake, uncovered, for about 25 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Remove from oven and let rest about 10 minutes before serving.

Notes: The casserole can be prepared a day ahead, refrigerated, then baked when needed, adding a little baking time as needed. Since most of the ricotta cheese I can buy tends to be somewhat liquidy, I always place it in a strainer lined with a coffee filter and placed over a bowl to drain excess liquid. It will take about 30 minutes, but can be done ahead if refrigerated. Discard liquid and continue with recipe.