I can't get enough Italian food. I mean seriously, I can't. Since living in New Jersey, close to my Italian relatives, friends, and coworkers, it has gotten worse. Now that I live back in Nebraska, and have had long discussions with my dad about holidays, I finally found out that his family in fact, used to have Italian food for Thanksgiving and Christmas and a turkey, just because it was required, I guess! My mother in law extraordinaire hosted the same kind of holidays. All the fixins and an almost entirely different Italian meal as well! My GOD, it was my dream come true. The point is, when I returned to Nebraska, I made it a tradition for my family to always serve an Italian dish along with the traditional holiday spread. This is one I serve often because I love it. I usually do 2 separate kinds, one with meat and one with just cheese. I am sharing my favorite with you today.
I am a cheater with mine, I do not cook the noodles first. Ain't NOBODY got time for all that shell ripping, slip sliding, filling of a wet noodle stuff. Oh no. Mine works out perfectly. This is a large batch, it will fill 28 shells. Feel free to halve the recipe. Otherwise just divide everything between the two pans it will take!
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Get out 2, 9x13 pans and let's get ready to rumble!
For the meat mixture you will need:
2lbs ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
3 T dried Italian seasoning
1 T onion powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
In addition you will need:
28 Manicotti Shells
2, 23.9 oz. (approx.) of your favorite pasta sauce or homemade
1 14.5 (ish) can of petite diced tomatoes
1-2 cups water
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
extra parmesan for the top
Combine all ingredients for your meat mixture. You can do it in a stand mixer or by hand, the choice is yours. Set aside and add about 1 cup of pasta sauce to the bottom of each pan. Spread it around so the shells don't stick. In a large bowl combine the rest of the pasta sauce, diced tomatoes, and rinse those pasta sauce jars out with about 1 cup of water each and swish and add to the bowl. Mix to combine and set aside.
You can fill the shells with a small spoon but I prefer a pastry bag, so that is what I did. You should have exactly enough to fill all the shells. Don't over fill but make sure they are full end to end. Fill a shell, place in pan, flip it to cover with some sauce and continue until all shells are filled. Now take the sauce in the bowl and pour half over each pan. Sprinkle on cup of mozz over each pan, and grate or sprinkle a bit more parmesan on top for good measure.
Now cover TIGHTLY with foil. Place in the oven for 45-50 minutes and they will be done perfectly! Remove foil and let cool for a minutes before serving!