I’ve mentioned a few times since starting my new(ish) job that I’m a big fan of make-ahead meals. Trying to cook during the week is hard enough as it is, but when you get home later than you’d like and have a toddler who starts getting ready for bed by 7:30, it becomes much more difficult.
There are few things that work better for make-ahead meals than baked pasta dishes. Generally, baked pasta dishes aren’t that difficult to make, but because they tend to have a few components, they can take some time. They’re usually not meant for a weeknight – or, at least, they can’t be a part of my weeknight meal repertoire – unless I’ve assembled them the day before.
This cannelloni/manicotti is a great make ahead meal. You can just assemble it and keep it covered in the fridge until you’re ready to bake it. The most time-consuming part of this for me was waiting for a large pot of water to boil. Is it just me (and my stovetop) or do you feel like you spend half your life waiting for water to boil?!
Anyway, I browned the sausage while the pasta was cooking, and then just added it to the rest of the filling. I did spread the manicotti noodles out on a lightly greased baking dish as I mixed the filling (and as I stuffed each piece) to make sure they didn’t get stuck together or tear.
I used manicotti noodles but you can use cannelloni or jumbo shells. Or, you can even just mix everything up with your favorite short pasta if you don’t feel like stuffing pasta. I used turkey sausage and part skim ricotta and mozzarella to keep this a bit lighter.
When I pre-make a meal like this, I don’t even bother preheating the oven. I actually think it works a little better, particularly if you’re going from fridge to oven, for the baking dish to warm up slowly, anyway.
Do you have any favorite make-ahead recipes?
Here are a few of our favorite make-ahead and crockpot meals:
Quinoa and Chicken Parmesan
Chicken, Mushroom, and Wild Rice Casserole
Short Ribs in Chipotle and Green Chile Sauce
Baked Burritos with Sour Cream-Poblano Sauce
Pasta with Chicken-Mushroom Ragout
Slowcooker Asian Pork (also great with chicken thighs or beef)
Slowcooker Smoky Pork Tinga Tacos with Avocado and Cheese
Slowcooker Mexican Shredded Beef for Tacos/Burritos
Slowcooker Italian Beef Sandwiches
Sausage, Spinach, and Ricotta Manicotti
- 1 (8 oz.) box manicotti noodles
- 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 12 oz. Italian turkey or pork sausage, casings removed if using links
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (10 oz.) package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 1.5 cups ricotta cheese
- 1/3 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese
- 1 egg (optional)
- 3 cups pasta sauce
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 (if baking immediately).
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and then add a pinch of salt. Add the manicotti noodles and cook until al dente, 5-6 minutes. Drain and spread on a towel or baking sheet in a single layer.
Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium heat, and add the oil. Add the sausage, breaking it apart as you add it. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, before adding the shallot. Continue to cook until sausage is well browned. Stir in garlic and cook another 1 minute. Place the mixture in a mixing bowl and cool slightly.
To the bowl, add the ricotta, Parmesan, drained spinach, a little salt, and a good amount of freshly cracked black pepper. Add the egg if using (this will help bind the mixture, but isn’t necessary if you don’t want to use it).
Spread a thin layer (about 1/2 cup) of pasta sauce over the bottom of a 13×9 baking dish. Stuff the manicotti with the sausage-cheese mixture one by one, and then place in the sauced baking dish. Once all the manicotti are in the dish, pour the remaining pasta sauce over the top, and sprinkle on the mozzarella cheese.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until cheese is lightly browned and bubbly (if baking directly from the fridge, you will need to increase your baking time).
This post is made possible by BlogHer’s Make Ahead Meals editorial series, made possible by Bank of America.
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