Buongiorno miei amata amici! As I was preparing last night's supper consisting of Sweet Basil & Cheese Manicotti (as pictured), it occurred to me that I have not shared a few simple tips when baking pasta dishes.
First, you do NOT have to precook your pasta by boiling it first. In fact, boiling it first makes it more difficult to work with and it loses the al dente texture by the time if completes baking, turning your hard work to mush in the mouth. Just one more reason I was disappointed when I made lasagna in our slow cooker/crock pot.
Whether constructing lasagna or manicotti, I simply use the dehydrated noodles from the store just as they are when layering or filling. You have two options, you can either just allow the pasta to derive its tenderness from the fillings or layers or you can add about 1 cup of water to every 2 cups of pasta sauce. I add water, then cover it with foil while baking, until the last 10 minutes when I am browning the cheese on top. An additional 15 minutes in the oven ensures the pasta is done to al dente perfection.
Also when filling manicotti or cannoli noodles, you can actually put the mixture into a pastry bag or ziploc baggie with the end snipped off and squeeze them full of cheese, meat, or cream.
Further, baked pasta dishes can be prepared a day or two before baking. How do you think Nonna always had lasagna baking for lunch on Sunday's family gatherings right after church?
Another thing, I almost always have left overs of the raw cheese center from manicotti and I put it in a ziploc freezer bag, label it, stick it in the freezer, and save it to add to a future lasagna.
For a cheese topping, if you want it to show more of the pasta and sauce, be sure to use a fine grate on the cheese and sprinkle lightly. My family consists of cheese lusters, so I use the large grate and smother it. However, I do use the fine grate for garlic cheese bread.
One last thing, always spray your pan with olive oil to make the release and clean up of your scrumptious meals a snap.
~Glass Bakeware above is by Pyrex~