Cheese Stuffed Manicotti

8 oz. manicotti pasta
1 pound Italian sausage, optional
1 can (8 oz) sliced mushrooms, optional
1 jar (26 oz) spaghetti sauce (about 3 1/2 cups)
1 carton (1 lb. 8 oz.) Ricotta cheese
2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cook manicotti pasta according to package directions. Be careful not to overcook. I usually cook mine 6 minutes. Drain pasta and place on wax paper to cool and to prevent pasta from sticking to each other.

Remove casing from sausage and scramble fry until thoroughly cooked. Drain excess fat. Add drained mushrooms and spaghetti sauce.

Combine Ricotta cheese, 1 1/2 cups Mozzarella and the Parmesan cheese with seasoning, garlic powder and pepper. Mix well. Place mixture in pasty bag, insert tip into manicotti tubes and fill each. * Place filled tubes in a lightly oiled 9×13 baking dish. Spread with sauce mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2-cup cheese. Cover pan and bake for 30-40 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Serves 6-8.

* NOTE: If a pastry tube is not available I have used my fingers to stuff tubes.

For time management, prepare the tubes up to 24 hours ahead. When ready to heat, place in baking dish cover with sauce and heat as above. The sausage adds great flavor to the dish, but may be eliminated for speed and to help control fat content.

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