Did you know that you don’t have to precook pasta or sauce when making a baked Italian dish? This discovery has saved me lots of time and trouble. No more dealing with hot, floppy lasagna, stuffed shells, or manicotta while stuffing them with ricotta cheese. No more cleaning sauce off the stove and walls from the lengthy simmering of a homemade sauce. No more cleaning of multiple pots and bowls from premixing.
Here is how I made tonight’s meatless manicotta. Modify to make stuffed shells or lasagna. To add meat, simply stir-fry meat in a pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper until cooked. Sprinkle into the sauce or on top of the dish before adding cheese.
Coat the bottom of a 9x13 glass baking dish with olive oil. Pour in a large can of crushed tomatoes. Sprinkle with kosher salt, pepper, and one teaspoon of nutmeg (optional). Slice garlic and intersperse into the sauce. One by one, stuff uncooked manicotta noodles with ricotta cheese. Use the end of a wooden spoon to help. Place the manicotta in the sauce and turn it so that it is completely covered with sauce. The sauce should come at least halfway up the noodle. If it does not, add another can of crushed tomatoes with a little more salt and pepper. Seal tightly with aluminum foil. The pasta will be cooked by the moisture of the sauce and the steam that is trapped inside.
Bake at 400 degrees for a 30 to 40 minutes. You may want to turn the noodles after twenty minutes. It is done when the noodles are al dente.
Remove the foil and cover with sliced mozzarella cheese. Bake for about five minutes until the cheese has melted.