Cravings…everyone has cravings, right? I have had a craving for this dish since we moved to sunny California three years ago. California is a wonderful place to live – the ocean, the mountains, the weather, the wine….a foodies’ paradise too, with all of the fresh fruits and vegetables available year round. They have some stellar restaurants here. The one thing I haven’t found is a real authentic Italian restaurant. I’m not talking “new american” Italian cuisine – I’m looking for an old school, dimly lit place, the menu filled with old family recipes hand carried over on the boat by great grandma Maria. The kind of place they would film “The Godfather Part 4” in (hey you never know…..) I have been to several wonderful old school Italian restaurants in New York City and also in St. Louis in an area known as “The Hill” where there are a couple dozen amazing and authentic Italian restaurants.
This recipe is an authentic manicotti made with crespelle (italian crepes), not those ridged tubular noodles called manicotti shells in the store. It takes some time but it is actually very simple to prepare – and the results are so worth it! The crespelle are made just like french dessert crepes – the technique takes a little practice – but after a few tries you will have your crepes all ready to stuff with the ricotta mixture.
The photo is a little blurry because I’m moving the pan around…you have to get the crepes very thin and just lightly browned. I always make the sauce first, then the crepes, then the filling. Bake 20 minutes in the oven and you have one amazing dinner.
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped fine
2 teaspoons fresh minced garlic (cloves or the jar kind found in the produce section)
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons fresh italian parsley, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, cut chiffonade style, divided
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
salt to taste
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 8 ounce container part skim ricotta cheese
8 ounces shredded mozarella, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh italian parsley
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic and sautee until just lightly browned. Add the crushed tomatoes, and simmer covered for 30 minutes, stirring often. (you will be making the crepes and filling while this is cooking) Add the wine, salt, pepper and herbs and simmer 10 more minutes. Reserve 1 tablespoon basil for garnish.
In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients for ricotta filling, reserving 1/2 of the mozzarella. Store in refrigerator until you finish the crepes.
Make the crepes by whisking together the eggs, milk and slightly cooled melted butter in a chilled mixing bowl. Gradually whisk in the flour and salt until the mixture is smooth. Lightly coat an 8 inch nonstick skillet with olive oil and place the pan over medium heat. With a 1/4 cup measuring cup or small ladle, pour the batter in the middle of the pan. Turn the pan at an angle and shake from side to side to coat the entire bottom of the pan with batter. Cook only about 30 seconds, or until lightly browned on bottom. Turn crepe over with a large spatula and cook 20 – 30 seconds more. Stack the crepes on a plate lined with waxed paper between each layer.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat the bottom of a 9 by 13 inch pan with with 2 cups of the marinara sauce. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the ricotta about an inch from the end of each crepe. Roll evenly into a tube, keeping the filling even as you roll. Place seam side down in the sauce filled pan. Repeat with the remaining crepes. Spoon a thin layer of sauce over top of the manicotti, then sprinkle remaining mozarella over top. Cover loosely with foil and bake approximately 20 minutes, until the sides of the pan are bubbling. Let sit 10 minutes to firm up the filling. Top each serving with reserved fresh basil.