If using fresh spinach, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat, and season generously with salt. Fill a medium bowl with ice water and season with salt. Boil the spinach until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, (keep the water in the pot boiling), and immediately plunge the spinach into the ice water. Drain and squeeze the excess water from the spinach, and finely chop. Alternatively, if using thawed spinach, simply squeeze, and finely chop. Set aside.
In the same large pot of boiling water, cook the manicotti shells according to the package directions until al dente. Drain and pat dry.
Spread 1 cup of the marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Lightly beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Add the spinach, ricotta, mozzarella, and 1/3 cup of the grated cheese and mix until evenly combined. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, the nutmeg and pepper. Spoon the cheese mixture into the manicotti shells and line them up in the baking dish. Cover with the remaining 2 cups sauce. Scatter the remaining 2/3 cup grated cheese on top and dot with the butter.
Bake for 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the herb sprigs and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes.
Remove and discard the herb sprigs. Stir in 2 teaspoons salt and season with pepper to taste. Use right away, or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 2 months.
Yield: 3 1/2 cups
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