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I've had all the ingredients for stuffed manicotti sitting around in my kitchen for the past 2 days but keep putting it off because I absolutely dread the whole stuffing process.

I usually start off using a spoon but quickly give up on that and resort to my hands instead. It usually makes a mess of my hands and the counter top, and every so often I have to throw one out because it broke.

I keep thinking that surely a fancy Italian restaurant is not going to have a cook sitting there stuffing individual tubes. I actually thought of using a piping bag but I'm pretty sure that the stuffing is just too thick and heterogeneous (it's usually a cold mixture of ricotta, shredded cheeses, onions, herbs, and an egg). That's about the limit of my imagination with respect to stuffing techniques.

So, does anyone know one or more ways to reduce the tedium or mess?

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9 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Piping bag is your answer. You just don't use a tip on it.

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I was betting against this working but after failing to get the plastic-bag version to do what I wanted, I tried the piping bag on a whim - and it's perfect! It fits just inside the manicotti and even though the mixture is pretty chunky going in, it smooths out considerably as it gets piped. –  Aaronut Oct 1 '10 at 1:41
    
Hate to say I told you so, but... :P (Same method also works for stuffed calamari nom nom nom!) –  daniel Oct 1 '10 at 1:55
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As roux said, and you alluded to, you want a piping bag of some kind.

Where I find a piping bag doesn't always work the best, I've been able to steal the concept and slightly modify it by "making my own at home". Put all the filling into a large ziploc bag (I use gallon sized cause I make manicotti in bulk, but quart sized works just as well). Edit: as noted in Aaronut's comment, regular ziplocs may become too soggy; I recommend freezer ziplocs, as they're significantly thicker.

Cut off one corner, a little smaller than the size of the manicotti opening, and you have your own piping bag on the cheap! Once you get used to using this, you'll be amazed how fast you can fill them.

Patting the manicotti dry with a paper towel after cooking but before stuffing also seems to really help keep them in my hand, because trying to fill a slippery manicotti shell is the WORST.

Also, if you can, let the manicotti shells cool completely after cooking - that really helps keep it from tearing.

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good point about drying them -- slippery noodles suck. (well, for this purpose ... overcooked and sticky noodles suck in a different way) –  Joe Sep 30 '10 at 19:10
    
I always immerse them in cold water after cooking but I think some of them are either already cracked or tear slightly during boiling - it seems unavoidable that some of them tear. The plastic bag is a clever idea - going to try that out tonight. –  Aaronut Sep 30 '10 at 19:46
    
I really expected this to be the best answer, but when I tried it, the bag got too soggy and the filling stuck to the sides pretty stubbornly. It did sort of work but it was rather difficult and messy. Surprisingly, it turns out that an actual piping bag (a proper sturdy one) does the job much better; as the filling gets compressed in the bag, it liquefies more and pipes quite easily. Still, this was a creative answer and a great solution for people who don't own piping bags. Thanks again! –  Aaronut Oct 1 '10 at 1:39
    
Darn! I guess I should edit my answer to address the fact that I use the freezer ziplocs in our house exclusively, since they're significantly thicker than the regular ziplocs - may have helped with the bag getting too soggy. As for the sticking to the sides, I have noticed that as well - lightly oiling the inside of the bag helped, but if you have a piping bag that works that sounds like the way to go. I definitely have noticed that at least some tear when they boil pretty much every time - how annoying! I think I'm going to try the ones you stuff dry and bake in the sauce next time. –  stephennmcdonald Oct 1 '10 at 15:41
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You can use lasagna noodles too and just spread the filling and roll them up. I've done that and gave up trying to stuff manicotti noodles.

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America's Test Kitchen does exactly that. I guess it all comes down to, "Just how fussy do you want to be?" –  Jolenealaska Dec 6 '13 at 23:12
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As both roux and stephenmcdonald mentioned, a piping bag is the way to go, as you assumed, but you often need to fill from each side, rather than just one side. (it depends on your filling ... also, it'll give you a prettier canneloni)

... but for manicotti, many places don't use tubes. They use crepes, so you don't have the trouble filling them. I've also seen recipes that call for using the 'no bake' lasagne noodles, softening them up first, and using them.

My only other idea for dealing with tubes would be to use some sort of a narrow syringe with no end, where it's durable enough to pack well, then can use that to inject the filling. You might need to keep a finger over the opposite end and intentionally pack it in to fill any extra air space between the syringe diameter and tube diameter.

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There are shells available that can be stuffed before cooking, then are baked in the sauce. Your mileage may vary. Haven't tried it myself.

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A friend of mine swears by these and says he can't tell the difference between these and "normal" manicotti. I haven't tried them yet, but plan to very soon. –  stephennmcdonald Oct 1 '10 at 15:42
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I cut a soft drink bottle in half, fill with the mixture, and use it to funnel the mixture into a sleeping cannelloni forcing the mixture with gloved hands.

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Very good advice, must try.

Regarding soggy/wet pasta, I use the same procedure for both mani's and lasagna-Cook the noodles just enough so that they are pliable, but not fully cooked (you can cut the lasagna noodles with a knife, but they are stiff enough to build). I don't bring my pasta water to a boil, I just heat it enough so that the pasta will cook in it. The water temp is low enough that I can reach in and pluck the pasta out with my bare hands. For manicotti, cook just enough so that they are pliable, but not so that they will split. Regarding the filling; I have found that if you add a little whole milk or cream to the filling, it is more workable, it will flow more easily, whether you are spreading it between the lasagna layers, or filling manicotti.

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Another option would be to simply switch to giant shells instead of manicotti. Then you can just open them right up and spoon the filling in easily.

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Haha, I figured somebody would point this out. True, shells are a lot easier to stuff, but they're not as pleasant to eat. ;) –  Aaronut Sep 30 '10 at 21:06
    
good point -- my great aunt makes over a hundred stuffed shells for easter dinner each year (in the past, it was closer to 200, but the family hadn't spread out as much) ... I don't think she'd be doing the same if it were manicotti, even if she were using crepes. –  Joe Sep 30 '10 at 21:06
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Cook the Manicotti until done. Remove from water and cool Then CUT THE NOODLES UP ONE SIDE, all the way along the length of the cooked noodle.

There is still a fold in the noodle on the non-cut side, but it is open and almost a flat sheet, and you can easily put all the filling into the noodle. Then with the filling in it, you can press it "sealed" and put in baking dish, and the Manicotti will stay whole and protect the filling during baking.

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