Manicotti, Muther-effers!

So we’ve all got that one thing we can cook like a champ, whether you need to impress the boss or the mother-in-law or your probation officer, or you’ve just planned an impromptu dinner party and need something reliable in a flash. The recipe we can school pretty much blindfolded, our signature dish, our piece de resistance… and mine happens to be a mean beef manicotti.  I don’t know how it originated exactly, but it’s grown from something simple (ie tomato sauce from a jar) and delicious to a rather time-consuming crowd-pleaser as my cooking skills have gotten a little better. It’s not difficult by any means, but you’ll need a couple of hours of cooking time to get it ready to go, but remember that thing I said about crowd-pleasing?  I don’t know about you, but I’m happy to take all the time in the world if it means a round of applause for my efforts. I am, however, a needy actor who craves constant affirmation and attention and ego strokes of all kinds. Rather obnoxious, I know. But look how cute I am!

Bonus for this recipe is we’re throwing the whole idea of making your own manicotti shells out the window. I’m sure some jerk’s gonna tell me how to do just that in the comments section of this post, and for that I say, “Thanks, nice jerk!”.  But today we are getting our shells out of a box, people. Let’s be real. Everything else is cooked from scratch, though, and all the effort’s mad worth it in the end. Trust.

(Also it goes without saying that drinking a nice red barolo while cooking this recipe really brings out the Italian Nonna in you.)



Ingredients for filling:

One box of manicotti shells (should be about 12 shells in a box)

1 lb extra lean ground beef

1 lb ground pork

1 box of frozen chopped spinach

2 eggs, beaten

1 large onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1/4 cup whole milk

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 cup ricotta cheese (go full fat here, my friends. None of that skim ricotta shit)

a dash of nutmeg

salt and pepper

Ingredients for Tomato Sauce:

2 28 oz cans of diced tomatoes

1 medium sized onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp or so of anchovy paste (I said trust me)

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1/2 cup of that red wine you’re drinking

1 tbsp sugar

salt and pepper

1 bunch of basil, stemmed and chopped or even torn by hand

Ingredients for Bechamel Sauce:

3 tbsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp flour

2 cups whole milk

dash of nutmeg

salt and pepper

Other Ingredients and Requirements:

A 9 x 12 oven-safe dish

a drizzle of olive oil for greasing the dish

A couple cups of grated pecorino romano cheese, plus more to pass around the table (Whole Foods sells it in the cheese section already grated and in a plastic container)

Garlic Bread for mopping up sauce/pigging out



First, start the tomato sauce because it has to simmer and get to know itself. Heat a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat with the olive oil. Sweat out the onions and garlic for a few minutes until they soften. Move the onions to the side and add the anchovy paste and red pepper flakes into the oil, letting the anchovy paste melt a bit. I’m telling you, this is the secret ingredient in my tomato sauce, and it does not taste like fish and stop being a baby.  It gives the sauce a whole different level of savoury deliciousness.  Add the wine to deglaze the pan, let it reduce for a minute or two. Add both cans of tomatoes, the sugar, and give it all a good stir. Season with some salt and pepper and stir in the basil. Bring to a boil and then simmer it on low heat for an hour before you start your filling. (This sauce is also pretty amazing with spaghetti and meatballs, or chicken parmesan, or as a simple sauce for a vegetarian penne marinara, if you’re one of THOSE.)


tomato sauce a-simmerin'
tomato sauce a-simmerin’

For the filling, first you need to defrost your spinach. The best way is taking the wrapping off the box and microwaving it in the box in a microwave-safe bowl for about 5 minutes. If you don’t have a microwave, just make sure you take out the box of spinach a few hours before you’re going to cook and defrost it in the sink. Using your hands, squeeze the excess water out of the spinach. You can also put it in a clean dish towel and wring the hell out of it which is what Rachael Ray does, and she has an actual TV show.  Next, get a deep pan and heat it over high heat with the olive oil. Add all the meat, season with salt and pepper generously, and brown it well for about five minutes. Add in the onions, garlic, oregano, and spinach, seasoning again with a little salt and pepper.  Combine it all well, season with a dash of nutmeg, and stir in the scrambled eggs, keeping the mixture moving so you don’t have a weird omelette on your hands. Add the milk, cook for a minute or two more, then turn off the heat. Move the mixture into a large bowl, stir in the ricotta, and then taste it for seasoning. Move it into the fridge to be cool enough to handle while you boil your shells.


This is where it gets real hard: Boil a big pot of water and follow the directions on the box of shells for al dente, usually about 4 to 5 minutes of boiling time. Get them out of the water and into a colander to strain. DON’T RINSE THE SHELLS WITH WATER, FOOLS!  The starch already on the pasta helps sauce adhere to it, so leave it alone.

Now for the tedious part: Grab a friend or a boyfriend who owes you one because he used (and broke) your $40 bottle of imported olive oil as a hammer for smashing hazelnuts, and get to filling your shells. Grease your 9 x 11 baking pan with a drizzle of olive oil, and spoon a big ladle full of tomato sauce on the bottom. Hold a shell in your hand over the dish, cupping the bottom of the shell. Take a spoon and start filling the shell at the top until full but not bulging– be careful, as they break easily, and then the world will end. (Just kidding, the sauce will cover up any ripped shells and no one will really notice). Lay those babies in the dish side by side.  You should have a pretty perfect filling to shell ratio, but if there’s any extra, just tuck it in the loneliest-looking shells.

Start your bechamel. Take another pot and melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for a few minutes. Slowly add in your milk, whisking away, until incorporated and lumpless. Raise the heat to get the milk simmering and thickening, add a dash of nutmeg, and salt and pepper.  Once it coats the back of a spoon, it’s ready to go.

Pour the bechamel over the manicotti. Pour/dot the rest of the tomato sauce over the top of that. Cover it up with foil and bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes. Take it out and let it rest for 5 or 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with a handful of grated pecorino romano cheese. Go to town. Your friends will love you.

SERVES 6 PIGS (two manicottis each)

23 Comments Add yours

  1. jamenta says:

    Looks DOLLICIOUS! Got to try it.

  2. Jenny says:

    I am not a pig, I was just really hungry that day.

  3. Jesi says:

    Ohh, not gonna lie…probably going to wait until Boyfriend is out of town so all six-pig-servings go to MOI. La vita e bella!

  4. Rae says:

    Question: why don’t you have your own cooking show yet?

  5. Mandi says:

    I’m going to try making this! That sauce isn’t vegetarian, though. Anchovies are animal. Tiny, delicious, little, animals.

  6. Nice Jerk? says:

    Manicotti Crepes/Shells

    (yields about 16-20):

    2 – Cups All Purpose Flour
    2 – Cups Whole Milk
    4 – Large Eggs
    Pinch of Salt


    Mix half of the ingredients (2 eggs, 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of milk, and a smidgen of salt) in a mixing bowl.
    Beat mixture until smooth.
    In the same bowl, gradually mix the rest of the ingredients.
    Beat mixture until smooth again (Add more milk if batter needs thinning).

    Use a small (seven to eight inch) non-stick frying pan on high heat. Lightly butter or spray the pan with cooking spray before adding crepe batter.
    Pour enough batter in the pan to coat it with a thin layer.
    Carefully peel off the shell when you see it thicken and edges start to curl (roughly 20-30 seconds).
    Flip over on other side for about 10-15 seconds and then remove crepe to a waiting plate.
    Separate crepes with wax paper to keep them from sticking.
    Let cool before adding Jewel’s filling.

  7. Mallory says:


  8. Rodney says:

    Jewel darling you are truely a cook after my own heart. Thw only things I would change/add would be more garlic ( after all I’m not a Vampire ), substitute small curd cottage cheese, and add chopped summer squash and carrots. Other then that your recipe more than passes the muster. I tend to mix a lot of veggies into my foods.

  9. CyndeeAnne says:

    The recipe makes my tumblee all grumblee 🙂 Yummy!

  10. Jim says:

    What size cans of tomatoes? 16oz? 28oz? 1/2 litre? 350 grams? this is impotant!!!!!!

  11. Natalie says:

    Can we have a moment of silence for the olive oil?

  12. Krystal says:

    Love manicotti! Definitely trying this recipe soon, sounds and looks delish! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  13. cathyobrien09 says:

    Oh my goodness this looks like a ton of effort but looks oh so worth it. Thanks for sharing! Can’t wait to make it!

  14. Mike H says:

    Great recipe. Your sauce is almost like mine except I add 1 tsp of dried oregano. It really compliments the anchovy paste. I’ve never tried the Bechamel Sauce this way but I like the way you think. Can’t wait to try it!!!

  15. Anonymous says:

    Three things: 1) cute, yes (any more than that statement would be creepy); 2) I’ll bet that olive oil/hazelnut episode was an enormous mess, and he owes you more than one; 3) try using a piping bag (or the corner cut off a freezer bag) with NO TIP, and pipe the mixture into the shells

  16. Sebastian K says:

    Oh, it sounds so delicious, I directly put it on my “To Cook” list for the next couple of months!
    And it looks amazing.

  17. vmh says:

    My daughter made this for us last night. It was delicious. So glad you posted it! Thanks!

  18. kerim says:

    Anchovies in tomato sauce is classic stuff. This sounds positively…YUMMY!!!

  19. lizard dude says:

    I’m tempted to try making this, but I’m 99% sure I’d wind up with something that looks and tastes nothing like what’s in your picture. Burnt toast is my specialty.

  20. Douglas says:

    Thanks for this. Looks fantastic. Somewhere I have a spinach gratin recipe that uses onion, anchovy paste, red pepper flakes and nutmeg. I believe the cheese is gruyere. Those flavors always work together.

  21. Rich says:

    You can make this even easier without boiling the shells first. If you stuff them raw and then bake them in sauce, the shells will self-boil in the sauce very nicely. Save you some burnt fingers!

  22. Lisa Stowe says:

    Sounds like something my husband needs to make. He cooks, I bake. And he’s really good at it. But he likes a fine single malt as he works rather than wine so I wonder if the recipe would turn out…

  23. Shane says:

    With such a love of good food how do you stay so thin.

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