This Italian classic is going to take some time if you decide to make your own marinara sauce and ricotta cheese. That’s right, your own ricotta! If you decide to go for it, make the ricotta the day before.

Spinach Manicotti

Marinara sauce (see below)

1 lb. homemade ricotta cheese (see below)

12 manicotti shells

10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

4 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

1 oz. grated Parmesan cheese

2 eggs

2 tsp. fennel seed, crushed

Marinara Sauce

28-oz. can whole tomatoes

1/4 c. red wine

3 cloves, garlic crushed and finely diced

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped

1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

Puree canned tomatoes in a blender. Add all remaining ingredients except fresh basil and parsley and buzz again. Pour into a 2-quart saucepan under medium heat and bring to a slow boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add fresh basil and parsley.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

32 oz. whole milk

8 oz. cream

1 1/2 tsp. natural sea salt

3 Tbsp. lemon juice

Combine whole milk, cream, kosher salt, and lemon juice in a saucepan and bring just to a boil without stirring. Immediately remove pan from heat.

Let mixture stand for 15 minutes at room temperature. As time passes, the curds will begin to separate from the whey.

Using a large spoon (not slotted) or measuring cup, spoon curds into a cheesecloth-lined sieve set over a large bowl. The longer you drain the ricotta, the denser and more flavorful the cheese will be.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spread 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of the prepared pan.

Parboil manicotti for half the time recommended on the package. Drain and cover with cool water to stop the cooking process and prevent the shells from cracking.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the ricotta, spinach, mozzarella, Parmesan, eggs and fennel seed. Evenly divide the cheese mixture among the manicotti by filling shells using a pastry bag and pipe the filling into the shells. Place in a single layer in the prepared baking dish and top with the remaining sauce.

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 5 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.

Sangiovese goes wonderfully with spicy Italian dishes, but also works with creamy fare. This dish provides the best of both worlds.

Try Toccata’s 2013 Santa Barbara County Sangiovese. This varietal is steadily gaining a foothold in far flung districts of California where the cooler climate locations like their Los Alamos vineyard are proving to be the most promising. Distinguished by aromas of pomegranate and fruits like plum and cherry, this wine will enhance all Italian and Mediterranean cuisine.


John David Finley is a freelance writer and author of the cookbook "Sacred Meals from our Family Table," which features Santa Barbara County wines. He can be reached at