This is my husband’s great aunt’s recipe and one our family favorites. Our family Christmas Day dinner tradition always includes Manicotti with ricotta cheese blend.
What is Manicotti and how is it different?
Manicotti is an Italian dish made with crepes filled with cheeses and baked in a sauce. Instead of dry pasta it uses crespelle, the Italian version of crepe. The result is undoubtedly delicious and the texture is velvety and smooth.
It is similar to cannelloni (which is made with dried pasta) but much more delicate and airy. You can fill it with almost anything, but the classic version is a ricotta cheese mixture.
How to make Manicotti?
I usually start with the crespelle. The crepes can be made ahead of time, covered and stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
Next I will have the sauce ready to go, which is a quick marinara sauce; keep it bright and light.
The cheese mixture is a combination of home made ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan, seasoned with salt and pepper and fresh chopped parsley.
Once you have all the components ready, preheat the oven to 375° F and start the assembly process. I cover the counter surface with plastic and lay down all the crepes right side down. (That’s the side that you cooked first, which is flatter and smoother; you want that side to be outside when you roll your manicotti.)
After I have the crepes lined up nicely, I divide the filling evenly between the crepes (about 1-2 tablespoons.) Place them off the center. Give the filling a cylindrical shape, bring the shortest lip over and roll like a cigar. Place them seam side down, and gently flatten each roll.
Have your baking dish or dishes ready. Drizzle a little oil on the bottom and ladle the marinara sauce into the dish and arrange the prepared manicotti in a single layer. You don’t want to over crowd them, so you might need several baking dishes to fit them all.
Spoon some red sauce on top, sprinkle some parmesan, cover and bake in a preheated over for 30 minutes until the internal temperature is 160. Uncover them and broil them for 2-3 minutes.
Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and chopped basil leaves.
You don’t want to cook at a higher temperature to avoid the cheese and egg to coagulate and become rubbery, so cooking under 375° F and achieving 160° F internal temperature will ensure that the manicotti is perfect; soft, velvety and delicate.
Can you prepare this ahead of time?
This is a perfect party dish for special occasions and holiday entertaining. You can prepare everything ahead and refrigerate. You can fill the crepes even a day before but don’t put them in the sauce (or any oil). On the day you plan to serve this dish, prepare the baking dishes with the oil and marinara sauce and arrange the manicotti. They might take 5-10 minutes longer to cook since they will be a bit colder. (They can stay in the sauce for 4-5 hours before cooking.)
Aunt Lena’s Manicotti
- 2 canned tomatoes diced, undrained
- 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tablespoon salt
- ½ teaspoon dry oregano
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh basil
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 Eggs
- 1 cups water
- 1 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoons melted divided
- 16 oz ricotta cheese
- 3/4 cup mozzarella Shredded
- ¼ cup parmesan freshly grated
- 3 egg
- ¼ cup fresh parsley finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Making the Crepes
- In a blender combine eggs, and water. Add flour and salt and blend well until there are no lumps of flour. Cover and refrigerate for 1-hour.
- Brush melted butter in an 8-in. nonstick skillet and heat the pan.
- Stir crepe batter and pour ¼ cup into the center of the skillet. Tilt and swirl the pan so the batter distributes evenly. Cook until the crepe sides pull away and the center appears dry for about 1 minute.
- With a spatula turn and cook the other side for 15 seconds. Remove it from the pan and continue making the crepes until all the batter is gone.
- Stack the cooked crepes on top of each other with parchment paper in between.
Making the Filling
- In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan cheese and some chopped parsley.
- Taste and season it with salt and pepper.
- Whisk the eggs and mix into the cheese.
- Place the crepes on a surface with the "right side" out. (That's the side that you cooked first, which is flatter and smoother; you want that side to be outside when you roll your manicotti.)
- Evenly distribute the filling (about 1/4 cup) filling down the center of each crepe.
- In a baking dish, drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil and half of the marinara sauce.
- Roll and fold the crepes with the filling and place them in the sauce seam side down
- Cover and bake at 375° for 20-30 minutes or until a thermometer reads 160°F internal temperature.