Make-ahead meals aren’t a huge focus of mine. I generally come home from work and make dinner almost every night. It’s our routine, I’m used to it. Of course, it never hurts to have some make-ahead strategies in your pocket for especially busy weeks or on occasions when you have company on a weeknight. When America’s Test Kitchen contacted me recently to see if I would be interested in reviewing their new cookbook, The Make-Ahead Cook, I figured that even though it isn’t a huge focus of mine, I was interested to see what they would have to say on the topic. I always love their books and their recipes, so why not check it out?

I think what most impressed me about this book is that it examines make-ahead strategies from numerous angles. From meals that are prepped ahead and cooked later, meals fully prepared in advance and ready to eat from the fridge, slow cooker and freezer options, they cover many different approaches to make-ahead cooking.  Some especially useful features include a “Shop Smart” section with several groupings of recipes where one grocery bag makes three dinners. Another chapter, “The Sunday Cook” includes several options for various types of roasts on Sunday used in multiple other meals throughout the rest of the week. And of course, one would be remiss to mention make-ahead meals without including slow cooker recipes. The book also includes a full chapter of slow cooker meals.

I’ll admit that upon my first perusal through the book, I was a bit disheartened because it seemed there were a lot of recipes that were either red meat based or heavy casseroles. Our eating habits have changed over time to include less red meat, less pasta and heavy dishes in general, so yes, there are a handful of recipes in the book that we probably won’t make. (I realize this manicotti is both a pasta dish and fairly heavy – just see my recent post explaining my desire for comfort food and you’ll understand.) However, when I looked at it more closely the second time around, I found a lot more dishes that I’m sure we will try and enjoy, including a good number of meatless meals. The “Reheat and Eat: Make-Ahead Stews and Braises” and “From Fridge to Table: Ready-to-Serve Entrees” chapters in particular include a lot of options that are right up our alley. I’m definitely glad to have some new ideas for streamlining our weeknight meals now that I’m back to work and getting settled into my new job.

And yes, the book is great, but let’s not overlook this fabulous spinach manicotti. Stuffed pasta dishes are a true indulgence for me. I rarely eat them so when I do, they had better be good. When flipping through the book, this was the first thing that jumped out at me and I just had to try it. In keeping with the make-ahead spirit, I prepped it in advance to have for dinner on an extremely busy day. The prep itself was pretty simple and straightforward, and getting to come home to a dinner this wonderful where the work was mostly already done was exactly what we all needed after a hectic day.

Are you interested in winning a copy of The Make-Ahead Cook? If so, head on over to the giveaway page to enter. We’re giving away two copies! 

Full disclosure: This giveaway is sponsored by America’s Test Kitchen with Annie’s Eats. I did receive an advance copy of The Make-Ahead Cook in order to review it. As always, all text and opinions are my own. 

  • Yield 2 casseroles, 4 servings each


For the pasta and filling: 

  • 3 cups ricotta cheese (I used low fat)
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese*
  • 10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 2 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • 16 no-boil lasagna noodles

To finish (per casserole):

  • 3 cups marinara sauce, divided
  • 1 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (about ½ cup)
  • ¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese*
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil


  • 01

    In a medium bowl, comine the ricotta, mozzarella, spinach, Parmesan, eggs, parsley, salt and pepper. Pour 1 inch of boiling water into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and slip the lasagna noodles into the water, spreading them out into as even a layer as possible. Let the noodles soak until pliable, about 5 minutes, separating with the tip of a knife to prevent sticking. Remove the noodles from the water and place in a single layer on clean dish towels with the short ends facing you; discard the water.

  • 02

    Spread ¼ cup of the ricotta mixture evenly over the bottom three-quarters of each noodle. Roll the noodles up around the filling.**(At this point the filled noodles can be frozen for later use. See below for freezing instructions.)

  • 03

    To finish and serve, preheat the oven to 400˚ F and adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Spread 1 cup of marinara sauce over the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Arrange 8 of the filled manicotti over the sauce. (I actually baked 12 the first time around because they fit in the pan and we were glad to have the leftovers.) Pour 1 cup of sauce over the top, cover with foil, and bake until hot throughout, about 30-35 minutes. Remove the foil, top with the remaining sauce, and sprinkle with the Parmesan and mozzarella. Continue to bake until the cheese is melted and bubbling, about 10 minutes more. Let cool for 5 minutes, sprinkle with the fresh basil, and serve.

  • 04

    *For best results, always use freshly shredded cheese.  Pre-shredded cheese comes coated in things such as flour, cornstarch to prevent clumping and results in an unpleasant, gritty texture when melted.

    **To freeze: Place the filled noodles seam side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them out so they are not touching. Freeze until firm, about 1 hour. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag or other airtight container.

    **When ready to serve: Follow the assembly and baking instructions above, but increase the baking time while covered with foil to about 40 minutes.