Manicotti formaggio: possibly my favorite Italian dish, yet it has taken me numerous times and lots of testing to get it remotely correct. The issue isn't usually in the ingredients, it's in the execution. One mistake and you're left with a soggy mess or crunchy, thick pasta outside runny ricotta. I had tried everything -- hand rolled pasta, egg roll wrappers, different flours, you name it. I finally broke down and just got the pre-rolled pasta sheets at Whole Foods.
With as many failures as I've experienced, this recipe is the closest that I've been able to get to that oh-so-elusive perfection attained by an Italian grandmother. The result is still a bit flimsy to handle so I'm adjusting the cooking time accordingly. The taste is still fabulous. This recipe serves about 2 so adjust it if need be. I also call for small amounts of several different cheeses; if this puts a dent in your budget either money or time-wise, use Parmesan and ricotta in the filling and mozzarella instead of provolone on top.
You will need:
4 oz ricotta cheese
1 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
1 oz non-smoked provolone, grated
2 tbsp grated parmesan
1 cup lightly steamed spinach, drained
a pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp sea salt
5-4"-6" flat pieces of fresh pasta to wrap
1-1 1/2 cups marinara sauce
Preheat the oven to 350. Combine the ricotta, spinach, egg and salt. Add the red pepper flakes and spinach, finishing by adding the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Put a few tablespoons of sauce in the bottom of a baking pan. Wrap a few tablespoons of the ricotta-spinach mixture in the pasta, forming long filled tubes. Set side by side in the baking pan and top with the rest of the marinara, then with the parmesan. Bake for 20-30 minutes, broiling for 2-3 if the top is not browned. Set aside to cool for 20 minutes, ideally. Make a small incision in the middle of one of the center manicottis after the cooling time to ensure that the filling is not runny (if so, bake another 10 minutes -- better to be safe than sorry!) I've found that they require a different baking time each time, but working with fresh pasta does change the game a bit. Once it's cooled enough to serve, it's wonderful alongside garlic bread.