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Four Cheese Manicotti

I love Italian food!  This recipe is full of cheese, pasta and a delicious tomato sauce.  You can't go wrong with that combination!

This is an interesting recipe because it combines two sauces.  One is homemade and the other one is "semi" homemade.

The bottom layer of the dish is a deliciously simple tomato sauce that is so easy to make using diced tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and basil.

The meat sauce only goes on top of the pasta and it contains a jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce.

I add quite a bit of spinach to my cheese mixture, but it is optional.  When this is in the oven, my entire house smells wonderful with the scent of garlic and bubbly sauce!  This makes a beautiful presentation, so it is extra special for dinner parties or celebrations.

Ingredients

1 box manicotti shells

For the cheese filling:

24 oz cottage cheese or ricotta cheese (Use the one you like best...I prefer cottage cheese.)

2/3 cup Parmesan cheese

2 eggs

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1 cup fresh spinach chopped 

4 oz cream cheese

For the bottom layer of sauce:

2 cans diced tomatoes

1/3 cup olive oil

5 cloves garlic chopped

1 tablespoon fresh basil chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

For the top layer:

1.5 pounds ground beef

1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce  (I use Ragu Garden Chunky.)

1 small can tomato paste

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese to sprinkle over the top

Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Directions:

  1. Cook the manicotti according to package directions.  Drain.  Run cold water over the top to stop the cooking process and set aside.

  2. Begin with the making the sauce for the bottom layer.  Combine the olive oil and garlic and cook for 2 minutes.  Add diced tomatoes and salt.  Cook for five minutes at a simmer.  Taste it.  If it does not taste great, it probably just needs a little more salt.  Add the basil and cook for 2 minutes.  Turn off the heat and set aside.

  3. Brown the hamburger meat.  Add the tomato paste and mix well.  Add the spaghetti sauce and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

  4. Combine the softened cream cheese with the cottage/ricotta cheese.  Mix well.  Add the Parmesan, mozzarella, beaten eggs and spinach.  Mix well.  

  5. To make it easier to get the cheese inside the manicotti, use a piping bag or ziplock bag to pipe it inside.  Place the cheese mixture in a ziplock bag and cut off the corner.  Begin by piping in the cheese mixture and set the pasta aside on a plate until all have been filled. 

  6. Pour 3/4 of the diced tomato mixture onto the bottom of a large casserole dish or lasagna pan that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Spread this mixture out evenly in the dish.

  7. Place the stuffed manicotti neatly onto the sauce in rows of one layer.  If you run out of room, try placing a few in opposite directions along the side of the dish.  I would not recommend stacking them.

  8. Pour the meat sauce over the top right down the middle of each.  Use the remainder of diced tomato sauce mixture to fill in.

  9. Sprinkle cheese on top.

  10. Bake on 350 degrees until it is bubbly and the cheese is melted.

  11. Remove from the oven and allow it to set.  This should take about 15 minutes.

  12. Sprinkle with fresh parsley for garnish.