When I offered to make a batch of manicotti for friends (and weeklong house guests) Tom and Beth last week we had what you might call a breakdown in communications.
"Do we need to go out and buy the pasta shells?" Tom wondered. "Or do you have them already?"
Before I could say anything Beth chimed in from behind the cover of The Joy of Cooking she'd been studying all morning.
"I'm betting the pasta machine's coming out," I heard her say. "Isn't that right, Meatball?"
Lately I have been practicing the fine art of social interaction and therefore refrained from blurting out the sort of snide, hurtful barb that at one time may have been expected of me.
"I'm so very sorry, my dear friends, but neither of you is correct," I managed in as measured a tone as I could manage. "I only know how to make manicotti one way. And I do so hope that you enjoy it."
(Note to regular readers: You believe these people? What kind of a knucklehead doesn't know that the best manicotti are made with crepes? And what are they doing in my house? Jeez!)
The truth is that I have never made manicotti using a pasta shell. I'm not even sure if I've eaten one. The crepe method is the only method that I know. And it's so good that it's hard to imagine another being any better.
Thin crepes are the key, the thinner the better. That means the crepe mix has to be super light and so mixing it in a blender works best. To keep it light I pour the mix straight from the blender into the frying pan. That way I can remix a couple times during the crepe-making process, even adding milk if things thicken up along the way.
A super hot omelette pan doused in butter is the way to a great crepe. I keep a bowl of melted butter next to the stovetop and apply it with a bristle brush before pouring the crepe mix into the pan.
To make thin crepes you must barely cover the surface of the pan with the mixture. We're not talking pancakes here, we're talking just-thicker-than-paper type stuff. After the mix is set and drying flip it over with a spatula. If your pan is properly heated this won't take long at all.
Here's what the cooked side should look like. After flipping the crepe it only takes maybe 30 seconds more to finish the other side.
The great thing about these crepes is that they can be piled on top of each other without sticking. And if you aren't making the manicotti right away the crepes can be refrigerated for a couple days.
This is a pretty traditional filling, made with ricotta, fresh mozzarella and such (the recipe is below).
A simple fold from one side and then the other does the trick.
Lay a light dose of tomato sauce in a baking pan, line the manicotti side by side, then add some more sauce on top. Cover in aluminum foil and throw into the oven, preheated to about 375 degrees F. Remove the foil after around 25 minutes and continue baking.
After about 45 minutes the manicotti should be done.
And your friends will stop asking you why you didn't use pasta shells.
Makes about 24
For the crepe
2 cups flour
4 extra large eggs
2 1/4 cups milk (more as needed)
Pinch of salt
Mix together in a blender until fully incorporated.
For the filling
2 lbs ricotta
1 lb fresh mozzarella
1 extra large egg
1/3 cup grated Romano cheese
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl add the ricotta. With a wide-cut grater grate the mozzarella over the ricotta. Add all the other ingredients and mix thoroughly.