If you want to really impress your friends and family at the dinner table, you’ve got to try this delicious Italian spinach manicotti recipe. These large stuffed pasta tubes are filled with a ricotta cheese and spinach mixture and then baked in the oven covered with your favorite Italian pasta sauce.
The best part? These are super easy to make! So don’t tell anyone and let them think you spent all day in the kitchen making them. 😊
I know this recipe will bring a taste of Italy to your table.
About This Spinach Manicotti Recipe
Manicotti are the pasta tubes used for making this recipe. Technically, once they are prepared and cooked, they can be called cannelloni. But for many Italian families, including my own, we just call them manicotti.
For this particular recipe, I chose to use Barilla’s pre-made manicotti. However, you can also make your own homemade manicotti using my manicotti crepes recipe. Just use this stuffing with that recipe.
The over all process is very easy – make the filling, prep the pasta tubes, stuff them with the filling and bake in your pasta sauce. If it sounds familiar, it’s because it’s very similar to my stuffed shells with ricotta and spinach recipe.
As always, I keep the flavors simple because that’s the best way when cooking Italian recipes. Too many flavors over-complicate the dish. Let the flavors have a chance to speak for themselves.
Keep in mind however that the quality of the ingredients is essential for creating the best flavor possible.
To Boil the Manicotti Shells or Not?
There are different ways people recommend preparing and cooking store-bought manicotti pasta. Some people prefer to parboil the manicotti noodles first and then stuff and bake them. While others say there is no need to parboil them at all and to just fill them and bake them.
For this recipe, I recommend parboiling them as shown above in the image. It doesn’t take long, and it’s the same process I use for all my recipes that use hard store-bought pasta such as jumbo shells or in our case – manicotti.
Recipe Ingredients for Spinach Manicotti
Specific measurements for this recipe are in the recipe card at the bottom of the post.
- Manicotti Shells. You can use store-bought shells.
- Butter or Olive Oil. This is needed to grease the bottom of the pan to prevent any potential sticking in the baking dish.
- Ricotta. Make sure to use whole milk ricotta which is creamier and more flavorful than part-skim.
- Grated Romano or Parmesan cheese. I use Romano cheese in most of my Italian cooking because I think it has more flavor, but you can certainly use Parmesan Reggiano instead. I like to buy a large block and grind the cheese using my Cuisinart grater disc.
- Shredded mozzarella cheese. You can use store-bought shredded mozzarella or grate your own fresh mozzarella.
- Thawed frozen spinach. All you’ll need is 12 oz bag of frozen and chopped spinach. You can also use fresh spinach and just steam it and chop it.
- Dried parsley. This is our primary herb. I don’t use other Italian herbs because the sauce will take care of that. Plus, our spinach ricotta mix is full of flavor.
- Garlic powder. That’s right, no garlic cloves here; just straight garlic powder.
- Black pepper. This is optional.
- Your favorite pasta sauce. There’s lots of flexibility here, but the type of sauce you use will determine the flavor since the noodles are cooking in the sauce. I recommend a traditional marinara sauce. I won’t judge you if you buy your favorite brand. I’ve done that too.
If you’re wanting a homemade experience and short on time, use my marinara sauce using tomato paste. It’s also an economical way to make sauce.
Step by Step Instructions
Here are the steps I take when making manicotti stuffed with spinach. Follow along and you’ll have your manicotti ready before you know it!
1- Start by bringing a large pot of water to a boil. Add the uncooked manicotti shells and boil for about 9 minutes. The noodles will be even less cooked than al-dente since we’re just partially cooking them, hence the term, parboil.
2- When the pasta is done, drain the noodles and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Place on a tray to cool. Set aside.
3- Meanwhile, we need to create the spinach and cheese mixture. Start by making sure the spinach is fully thawed and drained of excess liquid. Then add it to a medium bowl.
4- Next, add ½ of the Romano or Parmesan cheese (we’ll use the rest later). Also add the remaining ingredients: spinach, egg, whole milk ricotta, mozzarella cheese, parsley, garlic powder, black pepper.
5- Mix well to combine.
6- Prepare your baking dish or casserole dish by greasing the bottom of it with just a dab of butter or olive oil.
7- Spread about half of your sauce on the bottom.
8- Next, stuff each manicotti tube with the spinach ricotta mixture and place them in a single layer in the pan. You can stuff the manicotti using any of these three methods.
- Place the stuffing in a piping bag and then fill each tube. You can also use a ziplock bag or other clean plastic bag and cut a corner off to create your own DIY piping bag.
- Use a small spoon to fill the manicotti.
- Use your hands.
The method I use is with my hands. For easy clean up, I use some food-grade kitchen gloves and just fill it. Not as impressive sounding as using a piping bag, but this is what works for me.
Since these are store-bought, they are thicker and sturdier than homemade manicotti. I rarely ever tear them and if I do, it’s nothing major.
9- Fill the entire baking dish with the manicotti and cover with the remaining pasta sauce. Top with the remaining Romano (or Parmesan). If you want a cheesier topping, use grated fresh mozzarella.
11- Cover with foil and bake at 400F for 35 to 40 minutes. Double check your package instructions since different brands may have different cooking times that they recommend.
You’ll know when it’s done when the sauce is bubbling and the noodles are very tender.
Recipe Substitutions & Variations
Here are some ideas for substituting various ingredients.
- For additional cheeses, try using some cottage cheese in the mixture; just drain it so it’s not overly runny.
- Cut back on the ricotta by adding some cream cheese or whole Greek yogurt.
- Use an Alfredo sauce if you want to be really daring!
- Use a mix of fresh basil (or dried) in combination with the parsley.
Preparation & Storage Tips
Manicotti can easily be made in advance, so cooking them the day of is a breeze.
You can prepare the uncooked spinach stuffed manicotti a day in advance. If it’s still cold before placing in the oven, then just add 10 minutes to the cooking time.
If you want to freeze the manicotti either uncooked or as leftovers, it can last 3 to 6 months in an airtight container. I recommend keeping it closer to 3 months. Make sure to take it out at least 24 hours in advance and let it thaw in the fridge fully.
To reheat any recipe for spinach and cheese manicotti, it needs to be fully thawed first and foremost. If it’s an entire baking dish full of manicotti, then use the oven. Add more sauce if needed.
If you’re needing to reheat a single serving of manicotti for yourself, cover and reheat in the microwave for a minute, or until warmed through.
You can also place the portion in a skillet or saute pan, add a drop of water, cover with a lid, and then heat it up on medium-low heat. This will prevent the noodles from drying out – which is possible with the microwave method.
Delicious Side Dishes for Spinach Manicotti
This spinach manicotti recipe is often served for special occasions and holidays, such as on Christmas Eve for many Italian households. So pairing it with the right side dish is no meager task. Here are some suggestions for you.
Homemade Italian garlic bread is always easy to make when you follow my method of buying the bread at the store and then you flavor it!
Salads are always a good choice. I recommend a light Italian green salad. Make it as simple or vegetable-filled as you want.
My Italian green beans recipe uses garlic and olive oil for flavor, and is one of my favorites to serve with any pasta dish.
For additional ideas check out all our Italian side dishes.
Similar Recipes You May Enjoy
Enjoy my homemade manicotti crepes recipe instead of using store bought manicotti! You can still use the spinach filling.
Stuffed shells with spinach and cheese is a classic Italian recipe. If you want to impress, this recipe can do it!
These aren’t manicotti, but this Italian baked pasta recipe uses rigatoni and lots of cheese and sauce!
I hope you’ve enjoyed my easy spinach manicotti recipe. Let me know in the comments below how it turned out and if you made any changes to make it your own. If you love the recipe, please consider giving me a good star rating!
- 12 manicotti shells see notes for homemade manicotti shells
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 4 cups pasta sauce 1/2 used on bottom, then for layers
- 1 1/2 cups ricotta
- 1 cup Romano reserve 1/2 cup for topping
- 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella from a bag, or shredded fresh.
- 12 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
- 1/4 cup dried parsley
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 egg
- 1/8 tsp cracked black pepper
- Preheat oven to 400F
- Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and add the premade manicotti shells. This step is not required if you're making your own homemade manicotti shells.
- Boil the manicotti for 9 to 10 minutes then drain, and let cool.12 manicotti shells
- In your baking dish, spread some butter or olive oil on the bottom.1 Tbsp olive oil
- Spread almost half of sauce on the bottom of the pan.4 cups pasta sauce
- Thaw your spinach and squeeze or strain it to remove excess liquid.
- In a mixing bowl, combine half the cheese with all of the remaining ingredients. This is your filling.1 1/2 cups ricotta, 1 cup Romano, 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella, 12 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained, 1/4 cup dried parsley, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1/8 tsp cracked black pepper, 1 egg
- Fill each manicotti with the spinach filling. If you need more filling, just add more ricotta.
- Place the manicotti in a single layer in the baking dish. It's okay to layer them. If you do, you may need to cook them a little longer. Or you can just use two baking dishes.
- Add sauce to each layer and when done, add the remaining cheese to the top layer of sauce.
- Cover and bake at 400F for 40 minutes or until sauce is bubbling and manicotti is soft.
- If using store bought manicotti, please follow the boiling time and the baking time for them. Each brand is different.
- If you prefer to make your manicotti shells from scratch, use my easy recipe here. They are delicious and authentic!
- I use a lot of sauce in this recipe because the shells absorb it during baking. Make sure all edges are covered in sauce.
- If you prefer a cheesier type cheese, then top the manicotti with whole milk shredded mozzarella.