This hearty four-cheese manicotti with meat sauce can be made and assembled up to a day in advance making it a great dinner idea for guests or special occasions.
Like its cousin, the lasagna, four-cheese manicotti is a dish that serves so many purposes. First, it’s top-notch comfort food – sort of like a big, warm hug in a baking dish. Second, while it bakes it fills the house with the most amazing savory scents that get the tummy grumblings going, drawing everyone to the kitchen to ask when dinner might be ready. Third, it feeds a group making a great dinner for those times when you need a couple extra chairs around the kitchen table. Finally, while it is a little bit of a cooking project, all of it can be made and assembled ahead of time so when it’s time to think about dinner you just need to pop it in a hot oven.
The Meat Sauce
The sauce is simple, but it does need a little simmer time on the stovetop so all the flavors mix and mingle. It also gives it a chance to reduce a bit so the final result is thick and hearty (as opposed to thin and watery – never good for a sauce).
- I used ground beef, but you could substitute ground turkey for a lighter version.
- I love San Marzano plum tomatoes because they have amazing flavor. Be sure to look for San Marzano tomatoes that are marked with DOP, which indicates they were locally grown and packaged in Italy. San Marzano plum tomatoes are a little pricier than regular tomatoes, but I promise it’s worth the extra dollar or so.
- Balsamic vinegar: I like to add a splash of balsamic after the beef browns. It helps deglaze the pan and it adds a pop of tanginess to the sauce.
- Fresh herbs: During the summer I might add fresh basil, during the winter I might add parsley or fresh thyme.
The Four-Cheese Filling
The cheese filling is easy to toss together, but filling the manicotti with it can get a little tricky. I like to scoop the filling into a resealable bag and clip of one of the corners, like a pastry bag. It makes it easy to squeeze the filling into the pasta – I start on one end, fill it about halfway and then fill the other end until the pasta is stuffed with cheese. Here’s what you need for the filling:
- Creamy ricotta cheese
- Shredded mozzarella: As much as I love fresh mozzarella, I don’t recommend it for this recipe because it has a lot of moisture. Use regular block mozzarella and shred it.
- Shredded provolone cheese
- Grated Parmesan cheese
This four-cheese manicotti can be made and baked same day – it’s a wonderful Sunday afternoon cooking project – but for those times when schedules are packed, it’s a great make-ahead dinner. Make and assemble the dish up to a day in advance. When it’s time to bake it just add an extra 10 or 15 minutes or so to the bake time.
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Hearty and comforting baked manicotti that can be made up to a day in advance.
For the Sauce
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 cup diced yellow onion, diced
- 1 tbsp chopped garlic
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 (24-ounce) can San Marzano whole plum tomatoes (see note)
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp kosher salt
For the Pasta
- 1 ten-count box of manicotti
- 1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
- 1 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella, divided
- 1 cup shredded provolone, divided
- 3/4 cup grated Parmesan, divided
- 1 eggs
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the beef, onion, and garlic. Cook the beef until it’s browned. Add the balsamic and scrape up any browned bits off the bottom of the pan while it simmers. Add the tomatoes, 1/4 cup of water, oregano, and salt. Stir and bring the pan to a simmer. Simmer the sauce for at least 30 minutes, ideally up to an hour.
- In a separate pot, boil the pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta and toss it with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking.
- In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, 1 cup of mozzarella, 1/2 cup of provolone, 1/2 cup parmesan, egg, parsley, thyme leaves, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Transfer the cheese filling to a resealable bag. Seal the bag and then cut off one of the bottom corners (enough to make a 2-inch opening).
- Coat the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish with some of the meat sauce. Fill each manicotti with the cheese filling and place them in the baking dish. Pour the rest of the sauce over the top of the pasta. Top the sauce with 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella, 1/2 cup of provolone, and 1/4 cup of parmesan. Cover the dish with foil. At this point, you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to a day.
- Bake the manicotti at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Let it stand for five minutes or so before serving.
It helps to squish the tomatoes before adding them to the sauce. Place them in a bowl and, using your hands, give them a quick squish to break them up. Add them plus all the juices from the can to the pan with the beef.
- Category: Main Course
- Serving Size: 2 Manicotti with Sauce
- Calories: 795
- Fat: 41.7g
- Carbohydrates: 48.2g
- Fiber: 5.5g
- Protein: 56.3g