Manicotti is the Italian-American version of Cannelloni. In India we know it as Cannelloni but we prepare it like Manicotti!
Both are pasta tubes, but the difference between the two is not great: Manicotti tubes are ridged, larger and slightly thicker. Cannelloni tubes are smooth, a shorter and thinner. In Italy a stuffed cannelloni maybe served with just tomato sauce but often in Italian American cuisine it is topped with cheese or a cheese sauce. This recipe is the Italian American version. Find the recipe video on youtube (Tara Deshpande).
Add salt to the sauce with care as Parmesan is a salty cheese.
For the Marinara Sauce:
1/4 cup olive oil
10-12 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 small white onion very finely chopped
1.5 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tsp red chilli flakes or to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2.5 kg can crushed plum tomatoes (you can also use whole)
2 tablespoons minced parsley leaves plus more for garnishing
For the Cheese topping:
250 grams of shredded mozzarella
50 grams grated Parmesan
For the stuffing
500 grams cannelloni pasta tubes or giant shell pasta
250 grams ricotta (no liquid)
1 cup cooked, drained and chopped spinach
1 whole egg beaten (optional)
85 grams grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.
In a bowl, make the filling by combining the ricotta, spinach, egg, Parmesan and salt and pepper. Spoon into an icing bag with a large round tip. Reserve.
Heat a large Dutch oven type pot on medium heat. Add olive oil and saute the onion and garlic till just soft. Add tomatoes, oregano, red chilli flakes, 1 cup water and salt. Cook until sauce comes together about 12 minutes, stirring from time to time to prevent burning. Add parsley and cook another minute. If using whole tomatoes mash them down with a potato mashing tool. Season with salt sugar and more red chilli flakes to suit your palate. Traditionally cannelloni is not a spicy dish.
Pipe the stuffing into the manicotti tubes until just full.
Spread cooled tomato sauce onto the bottom of a 9-by-12 inch baking pan. Place the manicotti in the sauce one next to the other. Continue until the pan has a layer of manicotti. Spoon more sauce over the top to cover the pasta tubes. Cover with foil. Prick the foil with a fork to allow steam to escape.
Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove foil, top with cheeses and let it bake open for 10 minutes until golden and bubbly before serving. Garnish with chopped parsley if desired and serve with a green salad and garlic bread. Pour additional marinara sauce into a dish for pouring.