Monday, January 2, 2012

The lightest crepe manicotti

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.


Ciao Chow Linda said...

manicotti with crepes have always been a favorite, but I confess I love the pasta ones as well. Buon Anno.

Thomas Henry Strenk said...

It's true I've never eaten tubeless manicotti before. Meatball's version wasn't like the real thing, but it was tasty, sort of an Italian enchilada.

Anonymous said...

Yum. I'm sending this to my husband because he's the cook in my family. He has spoiled me.

Beth said...

those were seriously the best--super light and delicate with a nice egg-y flavor from the crepe! I may even try it at home.


Anonymous said...

Looks great and I am totally sure they taste sublime...I don't care for the tubed manicotti, the version you make are the only kind I will eat to be perfectly honest, living next to an italian family of incredible chefs I was totally spoiled and love love these manicotti's happy happy 2012...

Claudia said...

My challenge would not eating the crepes as they slid off the pan.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

This is the way I make manicotti! My mother-n -law from Calabria, Italy made them this way. They are the best and even better the next day if by chance there are any leftovers.

Gin said...

I'm proud of you. Are those my crepe pans?

Mister Meatball said...

Not your pans, Gin, no.

I'll make them for you some time.

Arlene said...

You are right - there is no other way to make manicotti but with crepes. For an even lighter crepe (I know it doesn't sound possible, but...) swap out 1/2 the milk for water. Light as air.

Love your blog. Happy New Year.

Mary Bergfeld said...

Mixed media :-). Meatballs and crepes are disparate skills and you've mastered both. Your manicotti sounds wonderful. I hope you had a wonderful holiday. Blessings...Mary

Anonymous said...

Where my family came from, these were called palatschinken!

What about making the same thing using thin slices of sauteed eggplant as the wrap. I think they are called involtini but am open to correction.

Mister Meatball said...

Anonymous: Your family would be from Austria, or thereabouts, then.

And involtini, I believe, refers to many rolled things. Meats (like braciole), etc.

Fred said...

Scuzzi, Signori Polpetti. I have a question of technical nature. I was informed recently that aluminum foil can react with the acid of tomato sauce and therefore it is inadvisable to cover any casserole such as your manicotti or lasagna, etc., with foil in the oven. Paranoid, I have inserting a layer of parchment paper between the foil and the food. Does this sound reasonable or is someone pulling my leg?

Mister Meatball said...

Fred: They're not pulling your leg. Whenever I cover a pan of a tomato-based dish w/ foil to refrigerate, I first add a layer of plastic wrap, then the foil. Otherwise, notice that the foil will develop small holes in it, the result (I think) of the acidic nature of tomatoes.

That said, I use straight aluminum foil in the oven, without a problem. Always have. Then again, it's usually for short periods, the first half hour or so of baking, as with these manicotti. And the foil doesn't really touch the food.

Hope that helps. I could certainly look into it further. Perhaps I can get a grant to do so. Hm... MIT here I come.

Fred said...

Thanks for the comeback, signore faccia di palla di carne. Now regarding your recipe: Yum.

mikkyzs said...

where my family comes from this crepe is called palcsinta...I can hardlt wait to try this recipe...just the thought is making me hungry...

Anonymous said...

I agree, I don't know any other way for the manicotti. My mom makes them the same way. They look delish.

Unknown said...

Real manicotti IS made with CREPES! NOT w/"pasta tubes". I've NEVER had it w/pasta! I'm not even Italian & I know this; My mother made AMAZING MANICOTTI. . .w/CREPES!

Anonymous said...

AGREE … always crepes!