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I love make ahead meals. You know the ones that you can make earlier in the day, and then all they need is to be cooked or reheated when it’s time for dinner. I find myself looking for these kinds of recipes especially for crazy busy days – and Sundays.

A little while back, I was feeling really on top of things. It was a Sunday morning, and since we don’t get home from church until 4pm, it’s always nice to have dinner pretty much ready so that I’m not rushing to get dinner on the table once we get home. This particular Sunday, I had this manicotti on the menu plan. This was the perfect recipe to assemble while I had the time in the morning, then refrigerate it until after church, when all I had to do was pop it in the oven. I’m guessing this one would make a great freezer meal as well!

I almost always have ground beef on hand in the freezer, so when I saw this recipe, I thought it would be a great change up for a pasta dish. It was absolutely delicious!! And although the marinara takes a bit of time to cook, it’s totally worth the effort. And really, it’s not a lot of effort at all – it just takes some time for the flavors to come together. I would totally recommend making the marinara – it would be a great all-around recipe to have on hand for other recipes as well!

Beef and Cheese Manicotti
slightly adapted from Everyday Italian

serves 6

total time: 1 hour (plus 1 hour 30 minutes if you are making the sauce from scratch)

1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 (15-oz) container ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
3 teaspoons olive oil
12 pieces of manicotti pasta (from one 8-oz box)
1 1/2 cups Marinara sauce (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon butter, cut into pieces

In a medium sized skillet over medium flame, saute the beef and the onion until the meat browns and the onion is translucent – about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it cool slightly.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix the ricotta, 1 cup of the mozzarella, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, the parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir the meat mixture in and set aside.

Brush 1 teaspoon of the olive oil over a baking sheet. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the manicotti and cook until softened, but still firm to the bite, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the manicotti to the prepared baking sheet and let cool.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Brush the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil in the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Spoon 1/2 cup of the marinara sauce in the bottom of the prepared dish. Fill the manicotti with the meat/cheese mixture, and arrange the stuffed pasta in a single layer in the baking dish. Spoon the remaining cup of sauce over the manicotti. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup Mozzarella and 1/4 cup Parmesan over the top. Dot the top with the butter pieces. (The manicotti can be prepared up to this point 8 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Bake the manicotti uncovered until it is heated through and the sauce bubbles on the bottom of the dish, about 35 minutes. Let the manicotti stand for 5 minutes and serve.

Marinara Sauce
from Everyday Italian

makes 2 quarts

total time: about 1 hour, 30 minutes

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
2 dried bay leaves

In a large pot, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, and the salt and pepper. Saute until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Season the sauce with more salt and pepper to taste. (The sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium heat before using.)

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5 Responses to Beef and Cheese Manicotti

  1. Joanne says:

    Make ahead meals are definitely fabulous tools! My main problem is planning that far ahead! These look delicious though! Total comfort food.

  2. Katrina says:

    Mmm delish! Love this.

  3. I completely agree about make ahead meals. If I had the ability to start my blog all over again, that would be my focus. Having something all ready to go in the freezer or fridge that just needs baking off is better than money in the bank, IMO. Especially when it’s something this hearty and delicious. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Pam says:

    Yes, I so agree with make ahead meals. This looks so colorful and delicious!

  5. Laura says:

    Thanks!

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