I thought long and hard about how I might introduce this recipe. Family traditions come dangerously close to violating one of my two rules of the Internet.
One. Before posting anything, first ask yourself: am I okay with mom seeing [object in question]? And two. Does anyone give a [hoot]?
The latter is what we are concerned with today. As manicotti is fairly unobjectionable to most.
In the interest of preemptively stifling a few yawns, I will skip the details in which this dish shows up on our yearly holiday buffet and, instead, focus on the reason it does. Mainly, because grandma makes it. And because it is very, very good.
Our family recipe originates from my great grandmother—and from Naples before that—though it’s had a few twists and turns along the way. I can feel you nodding off, so here’s what you should know.
You’ll need four eggs, equal parts flour and milk, and patience. Grandma claims success with her burner set at 4. She’ll advise you of this, then add you should figure out what works best for you.
You’d be wise to heed this advice. Because an airy, crepe-like pasta is what you’re after. Then you’ll fill it with lightly seasoned ricotta and sauce it with a few delicate spoonfuls of your finest tomato garnish. It might not make for the most glamorous of Internet posts or pictures. But few things that are ‘mother approved’ ever do.
No matter. Manicotti with a salacious story is not what we’re after here. We’re after a woman named Vera and her manicotti.
for the manicotti
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
canola oil, for the pan
for the ricotta filling
1 pound ricotta
1 to 2 tbsp finely chopped herbs, like parsley and basil
1 tbsp grated pecorino cheese
½ tsp sugar
few grinds of a pepper mill
pinch of salt
for the top
a few cups of your favorite sauce, this recipe will likely be a winner if you need a direction
plus a dusting of grated parmesan or pecorino
Prepare some wax or parchment paper torn into squares to sandwich the cooked crepes between. (The recipe makes about 16 crepes, but you won’t need a new square for every single one.)
Set the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, flour, and milk together until no longer lumpy. Heat a 6-inch skillet on medium heat. Grease with a little oil; you’ll want a fine sheen, so pour out any oil that pools in the pan.
Spoon about ¼ cup of batter into the center of the heated skillet and then gently, but quickly, swirl the pan so that the batter spreads into a thin circle. It helps to pick up the skillet to do this; it also helps to correct the heat if it gets too hot. The crepe should cook in about a minute, maybe a little less. You’ll know it’s done when its center is firm to the touch. (You won’t have to flip it.) It may take a few crepes to get your technique down.
Repeat until the remaining batter is used. You may need to adjust the heat if they start browning. And you may need to add a little more oil every few crepes.
To make the ricotta filling, combine all ingredients; set aside.
To assemble the manicotti, ladle a little sauce into two casserole dishes (I used a 12 x 6 and a 12 x 9), just enough to cover the bottoms. Spoon between 1 to 2 tbsp of the ricotta filling into the center of each crepe and then roll it up, setting each one seam side down in a line, side by side. Fill each pan with only one layer of crepes.
Cover the top lightly with sauce and dust with cheese. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes uncovered, or until the sauce is bubbling and the manicotti is heated through.
Makes 16 manicotti
-You’ll want to use a simple tomato sauce. Cooking down a 28-ounce can of tomatoes with onions, garlic, olive oil, and some chili flakes will also work. And it won’t take longer than about 20 minutes to do so. (Though technically, when I cook sauce I tend to use two cans of tomatoes, so I can have some leftover.)