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Manicotti Marinara

This recipe started with the one on the Barilla manicotti pasta box and grew into my own dish. I added more fresh herbs, some hot Italian sausage, more sauce and more cheese. Enjoy this with a green salad and a nice bottle of Chianti. Serves 6.

1 8-ounce package manicotti (pasta) shells

5 cups marinara (spaghetti) sauce (I use Paul Newman's Fra Diavolo sauce for this))
1 pound ground hot Italian sausage - optional

2 eggs
15 ounces ricotta cheese
20-24 ounces (about 5 cups) shredded Mozzarella cheese, divided
1-1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh oregano
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil


assembled and ready to go into the oven

Cook manicotti according to package directions (the Barilla brand says to cook pasta in 4 cups of boiling salted water for 7-9 minutes). Rinse thoroughly with cold water and drain.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 15x10-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Spread bottom of baking dish with 1 cup marinara sauce. Brown hot Italian sausage until not quite brown and pour the rest of the marinara sauce into it.

In large bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in the ricotta, 3 cups of the Mozzarella and 3/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese, along with the fresh parsley, oregano and basil.

Stuff the manicotti shells with the cheese mixture and arrange them in the baking dish on top of sauce. There should be plenty of cheese to fill the shells; if there is any cheese mixture left, just tuck it around the edges of the pasta.

Top with remaining sauce mixed with meat; sprinkle the remainder of the Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese on top. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake at 350 F. until bubbly, about 45-50 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 5-10 minutes until cheese is melted. You can also put it under the broiler for a minute or two to brown the cheese a bit. Remove from oven and let stand for five minutes before serving.

Serve manicotti marinara with a nice green salad and a bottle of Chianti.