By Angela Denstad Stigeler
Nothing helps a person get out and deck the halls like knowing a hot meal will be waiting when it’s time to come back in from the cold. If you need any convincing that this baked pasta dish is perfect winter fare, consider its name: manicotti in Italian means ‘muffs’ or ‘sleeves’ and refers to the shape of these large, tubular noodles. Filled with festive spinach greens and creamy white ricotta cheese, these pasta sleeves then wear a rich red coat of marinara and bake up under a toasty golden blanket of Parmesan. This is a great dish to have up your sleeve during the holidays, as you can easily double it and take it, oven-ready, to parties. Although they start out as wet noodles, they’re actually easier to work with than similar kinds of pasta and end up very impressive and easy to serve. Off the cuff, I’d say these stuffed muffs are a perfect holiday season meal. So whether you bundle them up to share, or keep them cozy at home, you’ll be happy to have these simple manicotti in your meal plan.
Spinach Manicotti with Marinara
8 manicotti shells
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 container (15 ounces) part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup finely grated Parmesan (2 ounces)
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 package (10 ounces) frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 cups prepared marinara sauce
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta shells according to package instructions. Drain well and arrange in a single layer on an oiled rimmed baking sheet. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and lemon zest. Stir in spinach and season the filling to taste with salt and pepper.
Transfer the filling to a large pastry bag or zip-top plastic bag. Pipe the filling into both ends of each pasta shell. Arrange the stuffed shells in an 8-inch square glass baking dish.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the marinara sauce, oregano, and cream. Pour the sauce evenly over the shells and top with the remaining Parmesan. Bake until the sauce in the center of the dish is bubbling and the cheese is browned in spots, about 30 minutes. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.