I’m a pasta fanatic. I can eat it any time of day in any way, shape or form. I have to restrain myself from always blogging about pasta (and always eating it!), but it’s time once again for another adventure in homemade pasta making.
It’s been a while since I have made a filled pasta, and because I have been craving manicotti and am in the holiday spirit, I decided to try my hand at making Christmas color-inspired manicotti with homemade spinach pasta dough and a ricotta filling.
Manicotti, which translates to “little sleeves”, are stuffed tubes of pasta with meat and/or ricotta that are covered in sauce and cheese, and then baked until golden brown and bubbly. The pasta tubes are available at most grocery stores, but in order to make the dish look more festive, I made spinach pasta dough from scratch.
It’s just like making egg pasta dough, but with the addition of fresh spinach leaves. To incorporate the spinach and make for a smooth texture, I placed the washed spinach leaves and eggs together in a blender and pureed until smooth.
I then added this mixture to my flour and semolina, and let the food processor bring my dough together. I then removed the dough from the machine, kneaded it a few times to develop the gluten and smooth it out, and then wrapped it in plastic wrap to rest.
Now that the dough was done and resting, I worked on the filling. I kept it pretty simple, but also incorporated the spinach theme into the ricotta mixture. In a bowl, I mixed together ricotta cheese (full fat is the most flavorful, but use part skim if preferred - it will still be excellent), roasted garlic, frozen chopped spinach (squeezed dry), Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, an egg for binding, salt and pepper. To make the assembly easier, I transferred the filling to a piping bag.
Now it was time to roll the dough and assemble the manicotti, and I was so glad to have my husband and son’s help with this part. It’s a bit of a labor-intensive project, and it certainly can be done alone but it’s more fun to have the help!
The first step is to roll the pasta dough into thin sheets using a pasta roller. You could do this with a rolling pin, but it would tack on some more time. If you are using a pasta roller, and your sheet of dough is getting too long for your counter, cut the dough in half and work with just one half at a time.
The second step is to cut the sheets into 4- to 5-inch squares. It doesn’t have to be perfect! My “squares” are a bit more rectangular, but once the manicotti is covered with sauce and cheese, no one will see. The best part is that you don’t have to boil the pasta squares before assembly!
The third step is to fill the squares with the ricotta filling and roll the sheets around the filling into tubes.
The fourth and final step is to place the tubes in a tomato sauce* shmeared baking dish, cover with more tomato sauce and top with Parmesan and mozzarella. Bake, covered with foil, until bubbly and then remove the foil and continue baking until golden brown on top. *I have to admit that I didn’t make my own sauce for this recipe, and instead used a jar of good quality sauce. No regrets!
The aromas wafting through my kitchen were tantalizing and the green, red and white colors of the dish were so fun and festive. Oh, and did I mention how delicious the final product was? The pasta was cooked through perfectly and still had a bit of pleasant chew to it. The filling was light and delicate and didn’t take away from the star of the show, which was the homemade pasta. And, the ooey gooey cheese topped it all off.
Ricotta-Filled Spinach Manicotti with Tomato Sauce
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Yield: 4-6 servings
Active time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Start to finish: 2 hours, 15 minutes
For the dough:
1 cup baby spinach
2 cups hard-wheat (“00”) flour, plus more if needed (see note, below)
1/4 cup semolina
For the filling and assembly:
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
1/2 cup chopped, frozen spinach, squeezed to remove any water
4 cloves roasted garlic, finely chopped (see note, below)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated plus 1/2 cup for sprinkling on the manicotti
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated plus 1 cup for sprinkling on the manicotti
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
1 jar of your favorite tomato sauce
- Puree the spinach and eggs together in a blender until well blended.
- Measure the flour and semolina in the bowl of a food processor.
- Pour in the egg-spinach mixture and process until the dough forms a ball. Remove from the processor and place on a lightly-floured surface.
- Knead just long enough to create a smooth ball, about 1 minute. You may need to add an additional sprinkling of flour so that the dough is not sticky.
- Wrap in plastic and allow to rest, at room temperature, for 20 minutes. Tip: If using the next day, place in the refrigerator to rest. Allow to come up to room temperature before rolling out.
- To prepare the filling, combine the ricotta cheese, spinach, roasted garlic, 1/2 cup parmesan, 1 cup mozzarella and egg, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350°, and spread a thin layer of the tomato sauce onto the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.
- Roll the spinach pasta dough into thin sheets (number 5 or 6 depending on your machine), and cut the sheets into 4- to 5-inch squares.
- Spread about 3 tablespoons of the filling mixture evenly onto the bottom three-quarters of each noodle square. Tip: Place the ricotta cheese filling in a piping bag for easier assembly. Roll into a tube shape and arrange in the baking dish with the seam side down. Continue until all of the pasta has been used. Top the manicotti evenly with the remaining sauce.
- Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese.
- Cover the manicotti with aluminum foil. Tip: Brush the inside of the foil with olive oil to prevent the cheese from sticking. Bake until bubbly, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the cheese is lightly browned. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
In Italy, flour is classified either as 1, 0, or 00, referring to how finely the flour is ground and how much of the bran and germ have been removed. Double zero is the most highly refined ground flour from durum wheat, making it high in protein, which results in an extremely elastic dough perfect for pasta, focaccia, pizza and flatbread.
To roast garlic, slice the top off a whole head of garlic to expose the cloves. Place it in a small ovenproof dish, drizzle with olive oil and cover with foil. Bake at 350º for 40 to 50 minutes, until the cloves are soft and a light golden color.
Now that you’re craving this dish, The Chopping Block is here to help! Join us for our very popular Pasta Workshop class this winter where we’ll show you how to make this dish along with homemade Spaghetti Carbonara.
If you can't join us in person (or you can't wait until January to get your pasta fix!), don't miss our virtual Spaghetti Carbonara class on Friday, December 16 at 6pm CST where our chef will teach you how to make this popular Roman pasta dish in your own kitchen.