Ham and cheese manicotti is a special meal, and because it freezes really well, you can make it now and save it for Easter Sunday if you like. It is simple to make, but does take some time and makes a lot of dirty dishes in the process. Here are the ingredients to put on your grocery order.
- 1 box of manicotti shells – they usually come in packages of about 14, but if you fill the shells generously you only need about 10. That’s good in case some of them break.
- 1 white or yellow onion, chopped.
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 green bell pepper (optional), seeded and chopped
- 1/4 cup butter or oil for cooking the onion
- 1-2 cups cooked ham, cubed or diced
- 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 6 tbsp butter or oil for making a roux
- 6 tbsp flour (any kind)
- 3 cups milk
- 2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated, for sprinkling on top
- Cook manicotti as directed on package. But be careful not to cook it longer, because you want the shells to remain firm enough to stuff. If you overcook, they tear really easily. Drain the cooked manicotti, rinse in cold water, and then set them aside.
- While the manicotti is boiling, make the filling as follows. Heat 1/4 cup butter, or a couple tablespoons oil, in a frying pan. Cook the chopped onion and bell pepper (if you are using it) until they are tender. Add garlic in the last minute or so. Turn off the heat. Stir in the cooked ham, and 1/3 cup parmesan cheese.
- Next make a cheese sauce. In a large saucepan, melt 6 tablespoons butter or oil. After the butter/oil is hot, whisk in 6 tablespoons of flour. Add 3 cups of milk and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until sauce thickens. This only takes a few minutes and the thickening will be very obvious. Turn off the heat and stir in 2 cups shredded Swiss cheese.
- Add about 1/4 of the cheese sauce to your ham mixture. I just measure out roughly one cup. Now note that your ham mixture is very hot. It might have cooled in the pan while you were making the cheese sauce, but now it’s hot again. This will make sense in a minute.
- Next prepare your baking pan(s). You are going to fill up 10-14 manicotti shells. This will all fit in a 13x9 baking pan, but you can break it up into a bunch of smaller pans if you making meals for one or two people. Grease the pan(s). Then coat the bottom of each pan with some of the cheese sauce.
- Now you are ready to fill the manicotti. I found the easiest way is to hold a manicotti upright in my clean left hand. Then I fill the manicotti with the ham mixture using a teaspoon. Some of the manicotti will fall through and touch your left hand. That’s why you need to be aware if it is too hot! Arrange the filled manicotti shells over the cheese sauce in the pan(s). If there is any leftover ham mixture, just sprinkle it over the manicotti. Cover the manicotti with the rest of the cheese sauce.
- At this point the meals are ready to freeze. Or, if you are eating the manicotti right away, sprinkle with extra parmesan cheese and bake in a 350-degree oven for about half an hour, until cheese bubbles.
- To cook a frozen meal, first thaw in fridge overnight. Then uncover and sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and bake in a 350-degree oven for 40-50 minutes, until cheese bubbles.
(Image credit: my own photo)
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