How to Make Manicotti Without Tears
"Manicotti without Tears." When you saw that title, did you read "tairs" meaning rips/cuts/splits, or "teers" as in weeping?
Have you ever had the pleasure of eating manicotti at an Italian restaurant? Broad tubes of pasta stuffed with meats and/or cheeses, baked in a sublime sauce of tomato, cream, or a bit of both. Manicotti is a wonderfully indulgent food. It's certainly not an everyday meal, nor is it a choice for a low-fat low-carb diet, but it's oh-so-satisfying.
But how do you stuff a tender tube of pasta without having it split open? I've never been able to do it. The tears have reduced me to tears. However, in northern Italy, where my sister lives, there is a weep-free, heavenly alternative. Instead of pasta, they use crepes, or, as they are known in Italian, "crespelle."
Recipe for Crepes
Ingredients (enough for 8 crepes)
- 2/3 cup milk
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup flour
- Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
- Refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Prepare a waiting surface for your finished crepes. A large sheet of parchment paper on the countertop next to your cooking station is ideal.
- Heat a medium-size saute pan over medium heat (the one I use is about 8 inches across). Brush melted butter on the bottom of the pan and ladle in about 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan. Swirl quickly to evenly distribute the batter to the edges of the pan. Cook until the edges begin to brown and curl up, about 1 minute.
- Carefully slide a spatula under the middle of the crepe and flip it over to cook the other side. This will take just a few seconds. Quickly flip the cooked crepe out of the pan onto the parchment paper to cool.
- Continue with the remaining batter.
- Set aside to cool. Do not refrigerate.
Spinach Filling Recipe
- 1 pound fresh spinach, washed well, stems removed
- 1/2 pound ricotta cheese
- 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper,
- Grated nutmeg (just a pinch)
- Steam the spinach over simmering water until wilted. Remove from heat and set aside. When cool enough to handle, squeeze to remove the excess moisture. Place in a large mixing bowl.
- Stir in the ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, the remaining 2 eggs, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and a pinch of ground nutmeg. Mix well.
Bechamel Sauce Recipe
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 6 tablespoons flour
- 1 3/4 cups milk
- 1 tablespoon sherry, optional
- 1 teaspoon salt
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour until smooth; cook for about 3 minutes but don't allow it to brown. Slowly whisk in the milk and sherry (if using) and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens, this will take about 2 minutes.
- Continue to cook, stirring constantly, to eliminate the raw flour taste, for about another 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt.
Then Build the Crepes
- Coat a large baking dish with cooking spray.
- Evenly divide the filling among the 8 crepes. You have two choices for shaping. You may either roll them up or fold them into quarters. Place your filled, shaped crespelle in the prepared baking dish. (I placed mine on a shallow baking pan lined with parchment.)
- Filled crepes
- Bechamel sauce
- 1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese (optional, but lovely)
- 1 cup marinara (red spaghetti) sauce, optional
- Preheat oven to 375° F.
- Pour the bechamel sauce over the crepes. Sprinkle with grated Swiss cheese.
- Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned on top. Garnish each serving with a spoonful of your favorite red spaghetti sauce. This step is optional, but the contrast of tangy red sauce against the creamy filling of the crespelle will make the flavors really pop. (I place my red sauce underneath the serving.)
© 2013 Linda Lum