If you’ve ever wondered why the manicotti you’ve eaten at your favorite Italian restaurant tastes different than the one you make at home, you’ve come to the right place. For the second installment of our Pasta Making 101 series, we’re taking on baked manicotti. We’ll walk through the process of making tender manicotti crepes, discuss the difference between them and pre-made shells, and fillings. Now without further ado, let’s gather up the ingredients.
Before we dive into the recipe, we figured it would be worthwhile to discuss the difference between the pre-made manicotti shells you find on grocery store shelves, and the homemade crepes we’re making in this recipe. Both options are fine, but just be aware that they don’t taste remotely alike. Pre-made manicotti shells are firmer like all dried pasta when cooked and don’t melt in your mouth like the traditional homemade crepes. This is likely why your manicotti at home tastes different from the manicotti you eat at a restaurant. The purpose of this blog post is to guide you on how to make pasta just like Nonna and she wouldn’t use pre-made manicotti shells, so keep reading.
The crepes are made of just four ingredients: eggs, flour, milk and salt. For every egg, you want one tablespoon of flour making this recipe easy to both halve and double. Unlike regular homemade pasta dough where you make a small molehill of flour and add the beaten eggs into the middle, for the crepe batter you’ll want to beat the eggs in a bowl and then add the salt, flour and milk separately. Beat with a fork after the addition of each ingredient to minimize the presence of larger lumps. However, the batter will have some, so no need to waste your time over mixing with a whisk for several minutes.
A common question received about making crepes is whether or not a crepe pan is required. Traditionalists will say yes, but we believe where there’s a will, there’s a way and to use what you have on hand. While a crepe pan will get you the thinnest and most perfectly sized crepes, a Google search will show you that there are several crepe tutorials using nonstick or stainless-steel skillet pans.
Heat the crepe pan over medium heat and coat with a tablespoon of Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Once the oil is brought to temperature, using a ladle, pour the batter into the skillet and with your other hand swirl the batter around so that the surface of the pan is covered with the mixture, which should be very thin. Using a heat-resistant spatula, flip the crepe over after about a minute or so and repeat on the other side. Unlike pancakes, you don’t have to add more oil in between each crepe, but pay attention to your skillet. If the crepes begin to stick, add more oil and bring it up to temperature again before resuming.
Combine the ricotta, mozzarella, egg and parsley in a bowl and mix thoroughly. The egg is optional, but acts as a binding agent making the filling sturdier. You can also add spinach to the mixture for added nutrition and flavor. Fill each crepe with about one tablespoon of filling and roll neatly into a tube before placing into a greased 9x13” dish, seam side down. Be careful not to overstuff the crepes, as you want to avoid the filling bursting through during cooking.
Once done, cover the stuffed crepes with Colavita Crushed Tomatoes and shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350 degrees, loosely covered with aluminum foil, for 40 minutes until lightly browned and bubbling.
One of the best things about manicotti is that it can be prepared ahead of time and frozen for consumption on a later date. Simply follow all of the steps prior to cooking and wrap snugly with foil and freeze for up to 30 days. Once you’re ready to cook, take it from the freezer and bring it to room temperature before placing in the oven. This is so you don’t shock your pan and potentially break it depending on what material it’s made of.
While manicotti isn’t like ravioli that can be filled with a wide range of fillings, manicotti does have some wiggle room for creativity. If you’re a meat eater, adding a bit of ground sausage, beef or turkey to the ricotta mixture could something nice to try. Before adding anything extra, be sure to drain off any extra liquid to prevent the liquid from making the crepes soggy.