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Stuffed Manicotti with Sausage and Spinach – a hearty and delicious Italian classic!
It’s been ages since I made stuffed manicotti! When our kids were little, I used to make baked manicotti all the time. I also made stuffed shells which is basically the same; just made a different form of stuffed pasta shells. Stuffed manicotti was always a favorite with our entire family. Now that our kids are grown, we don’t always need a casserole that feeds 6 to 8 people.
However, we host monthly family dinners (Sunday supper) for nine, and this is the perfect dish to feed our hungry crowd!
Can you leave out the Italian Sausage?
If you want a meatless dish, feel free to omit the Italian Sausage. The manicotti and sauce will still be delicious, but a little less hearty. The sausage adds a lot of heft and flavor to this casserole. It’s pretty meaty!
What kind of Italian sausage is best in this manicotti recipe?
We use sweet Italian sausage in this manicotti, but any variety will do. If you use hot Italian sausage, omit the red pepper flakes in the sauce.
Can you leave out the mushrooms?
Sure, you can leave out the mushrooms if you prefer. However, there’s a lot of flavor built into this casserole while the mushrooms are browned in the skillet. Unless you have an allergy or are just not into mushrooms (who doesn’t LOVE mushrooms?) I recommend leaving them in the dish. Mushrooms have a nice meaty flavor and add a lot to this sauce. For this casserole we use cremini mushrooms, but white mushrooms work well, too.
Can you taste the spinach in the sauce?
You really can’t taste the spinach but it adds some much needed vegetables to our day. I say sneak in more vegetables wherever you can, especially in a dish as flavorful as this stuffed manicotti.
Can stuffed manicotti be made ahead of time?
Yes! That’s one of the great things about this delicious casserole. The entire dish can be made ahead, assembled, cooled, covered and refrigerated until needed. Bring the manicotti to room temperature for at least 30 minutes before baking, to take the chill off. Cover the manicotti with foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Remove the foil, top with mozzarella and the remaining Parmesan and bake uncovered, for another 15 minutes.
This easy, hearty and flavorful stuffed manicotti is absolutely perfect for company and our monthly family Sunday supper. If you don’t need a large casserole, this recipe is easily halved and baked in a 9×9-inch square baking pan. Leftovers are pretty fantastic rewarmed gently in the microwave.
Another great thing about this recipe is that it starts with jarred marinara sauce for the base. We love this shortcut and always have a jar on hand. If you have a homemade tomato sauce recipe you love, you’ll need about 3 cups of marinara for this recipe.
Can you add more cheese to stuffed manicotti?
I don’t recommend overstuffing the manicotti shells. The filling may ooze out the ends before it’s baked. The eggs in the filling help the ricotta set, but only after it’s baked.
This recipe calls for only 1 cup of shredded mozzarella sprinkled on top at the end of baking. This seems like the perfect amount of gooey cheese for this dish. You can add more if you like, but I wouldn’t go overboard. It’s pretty cheesy all the way around.
The recipe calls for a small amount of dry white wine to deglaze the pan. Can you leave this out?
I love the little bit of wine in this chunky sauce, but if you don’t drink alcohol leave it out and use chicken broth instead.
I get a lot of questions about using wine in our recipes. Most of the time our readers don’t want to open an entire bottle of wine for just one dish. Nobody likes to waste money and an open bottle of wine won’t keep forever. If you don’t use wine for anything other than cooking, I suggest buying single serve bottles. Most well stocked wine stores sell little bottles in a four-pack. I always keep mini bottles of white and red wine on hand for cooking. Each bottle contains about 1 cup.
Fine wines don’t usually come in small plastic bottles, but the varieties I find are perfect for cooking. Sutter Home Chardonnay is our go-to white wine for cooking. It comes in a 4-pack of single-serve bottles for about $5.00.
Serve this hearty stuffed manicotti with a crispy salad and a hunk of crusty baguette.
We serve this manicotti with a fresh tossed salad drizzled with our Creamy Italian Dressing and flavorful homemade croutons. For dessert, don’t forget everybody’s favorite make-ahead Classic Tiramisu!
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Stuffed Manicotti with Sausage and Spinach
For the sauce:
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned and thick sliced
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 (5-ounce) package fresh baby spinach leaves
- 1 (24-ounce) jar prepared marinara sauce (or three cups homemade)
For the pasta:
- 12 - 14 manicotti pasta shells (8-ounces)
- 2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- ⅓ cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
- 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
- Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a 13x9-inch baking pan with nonstick spray. Set aside.
- Put a large pot of water on the stove top and heat on medium-low while preparing the sauce.
To prepare the sauce:
- Cook the sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat until browned, breaking up chunks with a spoon. Remove the sausage and residual juices from the skillet. Drain well. Set aside. (Do not wipe out the skillet.)
- Pour the olive oil into the now empty skillet. Add the mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, undisturbed until browned. Stir and continue cooking until the mushrooms release their moisture and are browned. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the minced shallot. Cook and stir constantly until the shallot softens, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Carefully pour in the wine. Deglaze the pan by scraping up any crusty bits on the bottom. Add the spinach and cook, stirring constantly to wilt, this can be done in two batches if needed. Add the marinara and cooked sausage. Stir to combine then remove from the heat. Cover and set aside while preparing the pasta.
To prepare the pasta:
- Bring the pot of water to a boil over high heat. Cook the manicotti according to package directions, about 7 minutes. Rinse with cold water and drain well.
- In a medium bowl, mix the ricotta, eggs, parsley, salt, pepper and half the Parmesan.
- Spread 3 cups of the meat sauce in the prepared pan. Spoon the ricotta mixture into the cooked manicotti, filling each with about ¼ cup. Place the filled manicotti in two tight rows on top of the sauce in the prepared pan. Repeat until all pasta is filled. Top with remaining meat sauce. You may have 1 or 2 extra manicotti shells. (Refrigerate and use with leftovers if desired.)
- Cover the pan with foil and bake for 25 minutes, or until the casserole is hot and bubbling. Remove the foil and sprinkle with mozzarella and remaining Parmesan. Bake, uncovered until the cheese melts, about 5 to 10 minutes. Cool 15 minutes then serve garnished with fresh basil, if desired.
Here are a few more classic Italian favorites you might enjoy: