What is Cheese Manicotti?

Manicotti is a classic Italian baked pasta dish made of tube or crepe-like pasta shells stuffed with a creamy, cheesy filling. Manicotti shells are then topped with tomato sauce and more cheese before baking until hot and bubbly. The end result is a comforting, crowd-pleasing meal with irresistible flavors.

What is Cheese Manicotti

Manicotti, sometimes called cannelloni, features tender pasta tubes filled with a ricotta cheese mixture and smothered in tomato sauce. Traditionally, the filling contains a blend of Italian cheeses like ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan. Herbs, spices, vegetables, or even meat may be mixed into the filling as well before the manicotti is topped with sauce and baked.

Manicotti gets its signature tubular shape from the unique manicotti pasta used to create it. Manicotti shells are thick, ridged tubes perfect for stuffing without breaking. However, you can also substitute other pasta varieties or crepes when making manicotti at home.

Once assembled, manicotti bakes in the oven until the pasta softens and the cheese filling melts into an irresistible, creamy mixture. The melty mozzarella and Parmesan topping gives even more delicious cheese flavor too. Served straight from the casserole, hot manicotti makes a satisfying entree or side at family dinners or parties. Leftovers also reheat beautifully for easy weeknight meals.

Manicotti vs. Cannelloni

Manicotti and cannelloni come from the same Italian origins, but some key differences set these baked pastas apart:

  • Pasta shape: Traditional manicotti shells are large, ridged tubes designed for filling. Cannelloni tubes tend to be smaller, smooth, and more cylinder-shaped.
  • Pasta thickness: Manicotti pasta is thick and sturdy so shells hold their shape while baking. Cannelloni tubes are thinner.
  • Filling: Cheese fillings are most popular for manicotti, while cannelloni may contain meat, veggies, or seafood.
  • Baking vessel: Since they're bigger, manicotti often bakes in a rectangular casserole dish. Cannelloni can fit into smaller round or oval baking dishes.

Manicotti and cannelloni are two similar Italian baked pastas, but manicotti uses bigger, heartier shells while cannelloni has smaller tubes and more flexible fillings. Feel free to swap one for the other though!

How to Make Cheese Manicotti

Making cheese manicotti at home is surprisingly simple. Here's an overview of the easy process:


To make classic cheese manicotti, you'll need:

Meat, vegetables, or additional ingredients can be added to the filling if desired. The cheese trio of ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan makes a perfect base though.

Prepare the Shells

First, cook the manicotti shells just until slightly underdone so they don't get mushy or break when handling. Drain and rinse the pasta tubes with cool water afterwards so they're easy to fill without burning your fingers.

If you can't find manicotti shells, use cannelloni tubes, lasagna sheets, or crepes instead. Just adjust cooking times as needed.

Make the Filling

Next, stir together the cheese filling. Combine the ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, eggs, and any additional ingredients until fully blended. Season generously with Italian herbs, garlic, salt, and pepper too.

Fill the Shells

Now comes the fun part: filling the manicotti! Using a narrow spoon or piping bag, carefully fill each pasta tube with the creamy cheese mixture. Just one end first, then the other. Arrange the stuffed shells in a baking dish as you work.

Tip: Only fill shells about three-quarters full so filling doesn't leak out the ends later.

Top and Bake

Finally, cover the filled manicotti generously with tomato sauce and extra mozzarella. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour until hot and bubbly. Let the cheesy masterpiece rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. Then dig into the ooey, gooey pasta!

Key Takeaway: Stuff manicotti shells with cheese, top with sauce, sprinkle with mozzarella, and bake until melted and delicious.

Tips for Making Manicotti

Here are some handy tips for easing the process of making manicotti at home:

  • Partially cook the pasta shells so they're just shy of al dente before filling. This prevents them from becoming mushy or breaking apart while baking but still allows them to cook through.
  • Use a pastry bag or plastic zip top bag with the corner snipped off to pipe filling easily into shells without breaking them. You can also carefully spoon in filling.
  • If manicotti shells aren't available, substitute lasagna noodles, cannelloni tubes, or crepes. Adjust baking times as needed.
  • Premade marinara sauce from the grocery store saves time, or make your own quick sauce.
  • Mix veggies like spinach or meats like sausage into the filling for extra flavor.
  • Assemble the manicotti up to 2 days in advance and store covered in the fridge until you're ready to bake.

How to Serve Manicotti

A piping hot pan of manicotti fresh from the oven makes a perfect entree for family dinners or celebrations. Here are some serving ideas:

As an Entree

Baked manicotti shines as a satisfying main course for gatherings big and small. Serve two or three stuffed shells per person along with:

  • Garlic bread or breadsticks
  • Green salad or Caesar salad
  • Sautéed vegetables like zucchini or eggplant

A nice Chianti or Cabernet wine pairs nicely with the saucy, cheesy pasta too.

As a Side Dish

While manicotti typically serves as an entree, you can also offer it as a hearty side dish next to entrees like:

  • Chicken parmesan or marsala
  • Meatballs or Italian sausages
  • Roast beef
  • Baked ham

The rich, tomato-y pasta bake balances lighter meats beautifully.

For Potlucks or Parties

Because it feeds a crowd, manicotti works exceptionally well at potlucks, parties, or other large gatherings. Prepare it ahead of time so all you have to do is bake once you arrive. Pair with a mixed green salad and garlic breadsticks for a complete meal.

No matter how you serve it, manicotti always satisfies! The recipe also reheats well for easy leftover meals all week.


Should you cook manicotti shells before stuffing?

Yes, always partially cook manicotti shells before filling so they don't break or get mushy during baking. Cook just until slightly underdone though.

What can you use instead of manicotti shells?

If you can't find manicotti pasta tubes, lasagna noodles, cannelloni shells, or crepes can substitute. Just adjust baking times as needed.

How do you stuff manicotti without breaking?

Be extremely gentle when handling cooked manicotti shells. Use a piping bag or plastic bag to fill shells easily. You can also use a narrow spoon.

What sauce do you put on manicotti?

Traditional manicotti is baked with marinara or another tomato-based Italian sauce. But you can get creative and use meat sauce, vodka sauce, Alfredo, pesto, or white wine sauces too.

What do you serve with manicotti?

Popular sides for manicotti include garlic bread, green salads, sautéed veggies like zucchini or eggplant, chicken parmesan or Marsala, meatballs, roast beef, and more.


Cheesy, saucy manicotti makes a deeply comforting and crowd-pleasing baked pasta dish perfect for feeding families or guests. While traditional recipes fill ridged manicotti tubes with a ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan filling, you can customize the ingredients to suit your tastes. Bake the stuffed shells with marinara sauce or whatever tomato sauce you prefer for a flavorful meal that both kids and adults devour. Served with garlic bread and a fresh salad, manicotti satisfies all pasta cravings!

With just a few simple ingredients and easy assembly, even novice cooks can master restaurant-quality manicotti at home. Cook the shells briefly before gently filling them by the spoonful or using a piping bag for easy application. Top with plenty of sauce and mozzarella before baking until melted and delicious. Feel free to get creative with fillings and toppings too. No matter how you prepare it, this iconic Italian pasta bake never disappoints!

AGAH Productions
AGAH Productions