Manicotti, a large, ridged, tubed pasta, is typically stuffed with either a ricotta or meat filling, covered in red sauce and more cheese and baked until bubbly. It's a seriously satisfying dish that hits all the comforting notes you'd expect in a baked pasta.

While the traditional version of this iconic Italian dish is one of my all-time favorites, I think I might like this week's flavorful, ultra-creamy chicken and spinach version even better.

Using whole-fat cottage cheese gives the filling a smoother, creamier texture with none of the graininess you sometimes find with ricotta. And, of course, adding a splash of cream to the marinara sauce dials up the level of luxuriousness.

While it's not difficult to use a small spoon to stuff the pasta tubes, I find that the job is even easier with a large plastic piping bag, like the ones you would use for cake or pastry decorating bag. I just cut a hole slightly smaller than the opening of the pasta tube and pipe the filling inside. Because the pasta shells are slightly undercooked, they aren't completely limp, which also makes them easier to fill.

Other timesaving options also can be employed in the making of this dish. There's no need to cook your own chicken, as shredded rotisserie chicken works just fine; same with store-bought marinara sauce if you don't have any homemade sauce on hand.

I like to serve this cheesy baked pasta with a green salad, a bottle of Italian red wine and perhaps some garlic bread, although this dish is so hearty that you don't really need it.

Creamy Chicken and Spinach Manicotti

Serves 6.

Using cottage cheese in the filling rather than the more traditional ricotta gives this deeply satisfying stuffed pasta dish an extra creaminess. From Meredith Deeds.

• 1 (8 oz.) box manicotti shells (14 shells)

• 3 1/2 c. marinara sauce (homemade or store-bought), warmed, divided

• 1/2 c. heavy cream

• 2 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

• 2 c. shredded cooked chicken

• 1 (16-oz.) container 4% cottage cheese

• 1 (10-oz.) pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, squeezed dry

• 1/2 c. shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish

• 1/4 c. chopped fresh basil

• 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

• 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

• 1 egg, slightly beaten


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook manicotti in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 to 6 minutes until almost al dente, but still slightly stiff. Transfer to a colander, rinse with cool water and drain well.

In a large measuring cup, combine 2 cups marinara sauce and cream. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine 2 cups of the mozzarella cheese, chicken, cottage cheese, spinach, Parmesan cheese, basil, pepper flakes, garlic and egg.

Spray a 9-by-13-inch (3-quart) baking dish with cooking spray. Spread 1 cup of the creamy marinara sauce in bottom of baking dish. Spoon (or use a pastry piping bag) the chicken and spinach filling into the manicotti shells and place in the baking dish. Spoon remaining 1 1/2 cups of the creamy marinara sauce over the top.

Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese on top.

Cover tightly with foil; bake 25 minutes. Uncover; bake another 15 to 20 minutes longer or until edges of pan are bubbling. Let sit for 10 minutes. Garnish with more Parmesan and serve with the remaining marinara sauce on the side.

Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at Follow her on Instagram ­at @meredithdeeds.