“Streamlining Manicotti”

This recipe can be found in the February 2007 issue of Cook’s Illustrated.

The author’s intent was to make manicotti in a simpler, quicker fashion. While the finished product turned out great, and I never found myself yelling at pasta or anything, it took a long time to get the pasta into the oven. In fact, it took 2 1/2 hours! Now, I’ll admit, I’m a bit meticulous/slow at measuring things, and I also don’t have a food processor for chopping up the tomatoes for the sauce (I used my kitchen sheers and snipped them inside the cans. It works, but it takes a good five or six minutes per can). But even with that, I can’t imagine the preparation taking someone less than 2 hours. This is definitely not something one could whip up after a long day of work/school and have to the table in an hour. But one could make it ahead of time and then pop it in the oven once home.

The recipe says it serves 6-8, and that seems about right. But as usual, it’s just me. So I decided I’d cook only half the recipe now and freeze the other half to eat later in the semester when I don’t have time for such labor-intensive cooking (I’m on spring break right now). So my 2 1/2 hours is for getting only half the manicotti into the oven. Granted, the actual spreading of the filling and rolling of the pasta (it uses lasagna noodles) was the least time-intensive part of the recipe, but that would definitely add at least another ten minutes. Also, since I was only baking half the recipe, I baked it for 30 minutes instead of 40, and the filling was still cooked through.

Being the not-so-affluent grad student that I am, I didn’t spring for fresh parsley. Instead I substituted a teaspoon or so of dried parsley. Would it have been better with fresh? Probably. But did I somehow contaminate the filling? Heck no. My one comment about the filling is that if you’re looking for a melty sort of manicotti, this isn’t it. The egg helps it hold together well, which I think is good, but I could see some finding it a little unsatisfying. I also substituted low-fat mozzarella, which sometimes doesn’t melt as well if it’s a topping on a dish, but inside the manicotti it was fine. Nice, stretchy strings of cheese.

I discovered there are two ways to read the directions on how to freeze this dish. The note reads, “The manicotti can be prepared through step 5, covered with a sheet of parchment paper, wrapped in aluminum foil, and…frozen for up to 1 month.” Now, step 5 is where the manicotti are assembled and placed into the dish with the sauce. The first time I read this, I thought it meant that I should assemble the whole thing and freeze it. However, I subsequently realized this might mean just the manicotti without the sauce. Unfortunately, I was packing the dish with sauce when I thought of that, so I did the first variation. I’ll provide an update on how it turns out in a couple weeks when I defrost and bake. I’m hoping that the sauce surrounding the pasta will prevent them from drying out. Guess we’ll find out.

One final note, the sauce recipe for this dish starts out a bit watery, but when the manicotti are broiled at the end (to brown the cheesy topping), most of the excess water evaporates. Plus, it’s good to have the extra water while baking, because the pasta continues to absorb it and expand.

Overall, this recipe was time consuming, but very tasty. It would be great to serve at a nice dinner.

Update: The thawed and baked manicotti turned out great, even if I might not have done the freezing the way the magazine planned. The only change I had to make was to let the dish thaw longer. I had it in the fridge for about two days before baking it.


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