Thursday, April 19, 2012

Donna's It's-All-About-The-Cookie-Gun Manicotti

Welcome guest blogger Donna, who submitted a post of her famously easy manicotti (if not famous yet, soon-to-be). I had some -- it's TO DIE FOR delicious! And I begged Donna to post her recipe so we could all be better people because of it. You're welcome...


Who doesn’t love manicotti? It’s one of those Italian pasta/cheese/tomato/garlic/and-hopefully-basil combos that sets your soul soaring. But, I could count on the fingers of one foot how many people I knew who would break out and make the stuff. Well, okay, my one gal-pal did…now and then…actually rarely. Why would she do that to herself, I would ask. Stuffing those slimy tubes is like force-feeding a slug…who won’t even help you by at least resisting. (I have a friend with such an aversion to slugs that after reading this she may never eat manicotti again.) I say go make someone else to do it for you; that’s why God created take-out. Oh no, she said, she didn’t do the tube-thing. Her recipe had crepes…little flat pancakes that you made first (by the thousands, I’m sure)…then rolled them up with filling inside…like a basil-y burrito.  My anal-retentiveness woke up with that. What if I had a crepe leftover, or too few of them? What do I do then? ACK! And how long did all this take? “Oh only about 3 hours…” “Did you really just say “Only”?” I like huge impact with very little time investment, so to no one’s surprise, the recipe sat in the drawer for years…until just after Christmas one year.

When the kids were young, making Christmas cookies always involved a cookie gun, not only so little hands could do fancy things, but also so the afore-mentioned mom-issue didn’t compel me to fix, straighten and improve everything. I have this ancient cutie my mom bought me at some swap-meet once upon a time for a buck. (That wasn’t the great bargain that swap-meets are supposed to cough up, since under old magic-marker I can still read the original price of $3.49) And one Christmas-baking day, while watching the kids “clean up”, which usually involved shooting bits of leftover dough in their mouths, my brain took note, but still set it aside. It wasn’t until I read where you can make lasagna without cooking the noodles first that I had my great epiphany. That day the heavens opened and they’ve stayed open ever since, for I have tamed the untamable. The recipe came out of the drawer and is now well loved, tomato-stained and barely readable. No more thoughts of take-out I could improve on, or slugs that need feeding…for I can throw down manicotti in an hour and a half, including cooking. I am amazing. And you can be too.

You too can enjoy making manicotti once again...

This is what a 32-year-old, well-loved recipe looks like.

There are two secrets to easy-peasy manicotti. One is that oh-so-wonderful cookie gun! Get one. Once you get the manicotti filling made, load up that sucker, turn it on ‘thick’ and let ‘er rip. Once you become a pro like me (about 10 minutes in), you’ll have a pound of them stuffed in about 10-15 minutes. The second secret is to add an additional 2 cups of water to your sauce just before assembling to bake. That will ensure your raw noodles will be cooked when done. (Adding 2 cups of water to the sauce before assembly works with 1 lb of raw lasagna noodles too.) The only downside to this process is that your noodle edges do tend to stick to each other a little and are a bit difficult to separate. Also, if you cook the noodles in the sauce, realize that gone are the days of snow white manicotti noodles that you pour rich, red sauce on. Nope, the sauce will be absorbed right into the little noodle bodies. But one of your Beauties, Missy said it best in her conclusion of “Umm, who cares?”

No tubes were hurt in the making of this manicotti.

And cookie gun sales start rising...

Donna’s Manicotti – make enough for 1 pound or 2 boxes manicotti tubes, Yield: 2 casseroles

Manicotti Tomato Sauce:
1/3 cup olive oil
1 ½ cup chopped onion
Clove Garlic, whatever you like, I use about 3
3 (14.5oz) cans diced tomatoes, or combo of cans and fresh
6 oz can tomato paste
2-3 Tbl. fresh parsley
1 Tbl. salt
1 Tbl. sugar
1 Tbl. fresh oregano, chopped
Small chunk fresh basil, chopped
¼ tsp pepper
1 ½ cup water
If you like heat, throw in some cayenne, a pinch or two to taste.

Fry onions and garlic in oil for a minute to two. Add the rest, including water (this is not the extra water for the raw noodles). Let cook while you assemble manicottis.

2 eggs
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
Couple Tbl. fresh parsley
1/3 cup parmesan cheese or combo with parmesan, oregano, asiago
8 oz. mozzarella
2 lb. ricotta

I throw all the filling ingredients in a big mixer for about ½ minute. Load your gun, set on high, take aim and fire at all the noodles. Some might be squashed, so a knife helps here. Once filled, I just put them back in those little plastic crate thingies they come in until I’m ready. Don’t fill too early. They will absorb liquid from the cheese and burst. Not that it matters…

Assembly: Spray 2 13x9 pans with cooking spray. Mix in 2 cups water to your finished sauce for cooking noodles. Put a scoop or two on the bottom of each pan. Add manicottis in one layer on top of sauce and cover with remaining sauce. Sprinkle some parmesan, or asiago or romano over the top, add tight tinfoil lid and bake at 350° for an hour, rotating halfway through.

And it's just that easy! 


  1. I love the well worn, stained recipe, that’s a sign of a delicious, classic recipe! Stuffing the noodles raw, what a brilliant move! Now time to go invest in a cookie gun… Thanks Donna, for the great post. The only thing that would have made this better was getting to try your Manicotti first hand!

  2. Dear Beauties, my birthday is coming up. I want a cookie gun. The end.

  3. Incredible! A cookie gun! Brilliant! I'm starving. Thank you, Donna. You are a skilled chef AND blog-ess. :)

  4. Thanks Donna for the great idea. We are all into the short cuts and nothing better then warm cheesy pasta! I can't wait to try.