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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?

  • My husband makes crepes for his manicotti and not only are they easier to fill, they soak up the sauce. It's what I always demand for my Birthday dinner ; ) – ColleenV Mar 17 '15 at 21:09
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    @ColleenV Crepes are an interesting twist! Now I need to learn how to make crepes too... – Caleb Dec 15 '16 at 0:02

19 Answers 19

19

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
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    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.

  • 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
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    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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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.

  • 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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What I found works great for me is partially boiling the manicotti until they get semi flexible. I also use the ziplock bag method for stuffing, but here's the thing. Rather than holding the tube as I stuff it, I put it inside a tall shot glass and THEN fill it. The glass I use is just a tiny bit bigger than the manicotti which means I can stuff it as full as I want, without the pasta splitting down the side. Enough of the pasta hangs outside the glass that it's easy to pull it back out.

2

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.

2

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.

2

This is easy. Get plastic a water, soda or pop bottle of about 500ml 3/4 pint having a neck of the same diameter or smaller than the canneloni. Cut the bottle it in half and use it to scoop out the filling from the bowl or pan and hold it upright to let the excess liquid drain back to the pan or bowl. Then get a wooden spoon handle or some other thing that fits through the neck. Stand the canneloni vertically on a baking tray, place the bottle on top then push the filling down into the canneloni with your implement. You can put a fish slice under the canneloni when transferring it to the baking dish to stop the filling falling out. You can do this procedure single handedly if the filling is cold but if hot get one person to hold the bottle and canneloni whilst the other pushes. Decent canneloni rather than supermarket own brand is much better because the tubes are rounder, thicker and less susceptible to cracking.

2

For shells and cannoli, I just use a good zip lock bag.

  1. Place the filling in the quart size bag with the zipper up.

  2. Close the bag enough to get as much air you can out.

  3. Place the filling in the refrigerator in a tall cup or mug with the zipper up as you are getting the shells ready. The filling will stiffen some, which is good.

  4. Using good scissor, cut a tiny hole, then place the small hole into the shell and squeeze just enough to the end of the shell, switch the other side. For cannoli, just make the hole slightly bigger the chocolate chip.

  5. Store the leftover in a gallon bag in the freezer for next time, but the filling is best fresh. I wouldn't fill the shells anymore the four hours ahead; they just taste better that way.

  6. Place the cannoli in the freezer, so it won't let the shell soft before serving.

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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.

  • 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
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    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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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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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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I made cannelloni for the first time last night. What a mess. I cooked the pasta as instructed, but when it came time to fill them, I had great difficulty. First I used a spoon while holding the tube in one hand -- no go. Then I had the idea of putting the tube in a glass to steady it. Still no success. Then I put the filling in a zip-lock bag. Still a big mess and some of the tubes started to split. Eventually, I just split all the tubes, flattened them out and lay them on top of the sauce, spread the filling on top, spread more sauce over, and voila. It looked more like a lasagna than cannelloni, but it tasted great. Next time I make this I will use rolled up lasagna or just put the filling on top of the lasagna. I certainly won't try to fill the tubes again.

  • Hello, and welcome to Stack Exchange. Although interesting, this doesn't answer the original question. – Daniel Griscom Oct 27 '16 at 22:04
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    @DanielGriscom I'm not sure. "It isn't worth it" is kind of an answer, isn't it? I'm going to leave it for now. For what it is worth, I think Rita has a great cheater solution. – Jolenealaska Oct 28 '16 at 9:40
  • Well, plenty of people feel it's worth it to stuff cannelloni. At best, this is a personal opinion, which also is off-topic. – Daniel Griscom Oct 28 '16 at 11:46
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It's less messy to just use your hands. With careful technique, of course. Especially if you start out using your hands, instead of trying a spoon first - somehow it always ends up way messier if your start with a spoon and switch to hands, than if you start out intending to use your hands.

The easy way to stuff manicotti to grab a little chunk of filling - somewhere between a rounded tsp and tbs, the maximum is the diameter of your manicotti - maybe roughly tap it into a ball, hold the manicotti in your other hand (maybe rest against the filling-bowl), and tuck the filling down one side of the manicotti. If the filling is a bit more sticky, you will have it scooped on your fingertips, and can use your thumb to push the filling down from your finger-fronts. Repeat until your manicotti is filled,maybe tucking the last few bits on the other side of your manicotti if the filling didn't stuff down quite evenly.

You should not be making a mess of your counter-tops, or getting filling anywhere other than the bowl and manicotti. Once you've got a bit of practice, you might not even be making a big mess of your hands - you're just using your fingertips, on little blobs of filling at a time, you palm should stay clean and dry for quite some time.

The stuffing goes very quickly, since even though you're grabbing only a bit of filling at a time, it's really quick to scoop a tiny bit out. It's easier to control the filling when you're only dealing with a bit at at time, it doesn't drop bits off or smear around like when you're trying to fit a handful in at once. And using your hands is much more intuitive than a spoon or even gloved hands - yeah, it feels messy when you first dip your fingers in, but actually the mess always ends up less because the filling is easier to control with your fingertips. And, I'm not sure why - but starting with a spoon and moving to fingers is always messier than starting with fingers. Not even just when using the spoon, too - maybe something about being impatient or a less careful mindset that starts with the choice of spoon and spills over?

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Ii just finished making cannelloni & have made it lots of times.

What I do for filling is once the filling is ready to fill, throw it in a food processor and pulse a little and I use the freezer bag method. Simple to fill, less mess.

I can do about 30 in 15 min.

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I found that a simple beef jerky gun works well with the round tip of course.

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Read this thread as my wife and I are using manicotti shells for the first time. Used a pastry bag, sprayed with Pam. Boiled shells for four minutes, then removed from water. Let cool. Mixed ingredients in mixer. Got shells filled in about fifteen minutes. Stuck them in freezer until we’re ready to bake them. Easier than we thought.

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Buy plastic sausage stuffers on Ebay. 3 Tubes for a little over a dollar and free shipping. Although they come from China and shipping time is lengthy.

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I am not a cook. My husband needed a dish to take to a function, and I suggested stuffed shells. I had the shells,and could whip up the stuffing, or so I thought. The shells were actually manicotti. I made the filling and then realized I had no idea how to stuff them. I cooked the noodles as per packing directions, 7 minutes in boiling water. They were a bit stiff, but that turned out to be beneficial. I drained them well and laid them on aluminum foil while they cooled. Then I searched Internet on how to stuff them. My solution was a combination of all the suggestions. I do not own a pastry bag, but I did have GALLON ZIP-LOCK STORAGE BAGS. I SPRAYED THE INSIDE WITH COOKING SPRAY, PUT A COUPLE SPOONSFUL OF FILLING in the bag, Cut a small corner off the bag. I took a narrow CHAMPAGNE FLUTE, PUT a noodle in the glass, and Squeezed the filling into the noodle. I could have used an extra hand to hold each noodle open until I got the squeezing started, but Hubby was contentedly watching "Wheel of Fortune" and didn't answer my 14 summons. I didn't tear any of the noodles.

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