Keeping Family Traditions Alive
The thing I love most about sharing food is keeping my family traditions alive through recipes like my Mama’s Rice Balls, my Mother in Law’s Focaccia and today, a family favorite (on both sides) homemade manicotti. Not only is each recipe special because it has been handed down to me, but because they all come with a special story/memory that I get to share with you. In a way it’s like writing a book of family history through the eyes of food. I feel like when I share a recipe from my childhood or one from my husband’s childhood, it keeps the voice of our mothers’ and ancestors alive. And once you’ve tried these homemade manicotti crepes, you’ll see why this is a recipe story worth telling.
I’ve been in love with manicotti crepes since the beginning of time (at least my beginning in time). My mother used make them for every special occasion and holiday that she hosted. I remember her sitting down in the kitchen with this little gadget that she would pour and swirl the batter on until they formed the flattest most delicate little crepe you ever did see. She would make so many, usually a few days in advance and then when she was ready to bake them she would fill them with this ricotta and mozzarella cheese mixture, roll them up, cover them in Sauce (a.k.a gravy) and pop them in the oven until ready to serve.
Making Homemade Manicotti is NOT as difficult as you might think
At first glance manicotti crepes can look very intimidating and difficult to make but I promise you, with just a few practice crepes you’ll get into a rhythm and be pro in no time. I use a 9″ non stick skillet and spray it with a little olive oil. I usually lose the first few until I get into the groove. You don’t want the crepe batter to be too thick either, it should be thinner than traditional pancake batter and spread out onto the pan quickly as you swirl it around. Once the crepe sets you can gently flip it over for a minute and then set them aside to cool.
The next steps couldn’t be any easier. Mix together the ricotta cheese, diced mozzarella, grated parmesan cheese, eggs and parsley and begin to fill the crepes, roll em’ up and drop them into a baking dish that has been filled with a little tomato sauce. When the crepes are all nestled together in the baking dish they get covered with more sauce, grated parmesan and mozzarella cheese. Covered in foil, the manicotti bake in the oven for about a half hour. Then the foil is carefully removed and the manicotti bake uncovered until the ricotta filling is cooked through and the crepes begin to puff up a bit. It usually takes about 25 minutes in my oven.
PRO TIP: use a thicker ricotta cheese without a lot of water (if possible). If your ricotta cheese is watery simply strain it over night to get rid of the extra moisture. You can place a strainer over a bowl, line it with cheesecloth , then pour the ricotta into the strainer and let that sit over night in the fridge to drain.
A note about the Sauce:
This recipe calls for 1 batch of my San Marzano Tomato Sauce which I make with about 64oz of San Marzano Tomatoes that have been pureed/blended. I do not have any experience with jarred sauce but do not see why you could not use it in this recipe. The only caution I would use is that when using a jarred sauce, make sure it is as simple and basic as possible. I apologize I am not much help in jarred sauce department.
Mangia and enjoy
Growing up these light and fluffy Manicotti Crepes could always be found on our special occasion table. Although I am not sure if I make them as well as my Mother and Mother in Law, they always bring me back to those special moments in time with my Mom in the kitchen and all the LOVE she put into any meal. Even though I was usually too busy to want to learn at the time, I bet she would surprised to know how much I actually learned from her by just standing around watching. And I know she never could have imagined that the love she shared with us in her kitchen would one day be extended to all of you. Whenever I make this recipe, any of my mother’s dishes really, I treasure that reminiscent feeling of unconditional love and warmth that can only come from my Mother’s kitchen.
p.s. I am working on a How To “homemade manicotti” video …. hoping to get that up soon!