Christmas would not be Christmas without manicotti. Technically, these are cannelloni. The difference between manicotti and cannelloni is the pasta. Manicotti are made with a pasta noodle while cannelloni are individual crepes. But for my purposes, I'm going to call them manicotti and here's why:
My nonna, who I simply adore, really is the world's best cook. I don't remember what year it was, I think I was either still in college or just out of college, but my brother and I realized that nonna would not always be around to make us our favorite meals. Nonna did not work from recipes and we realized that once she stopped cooking, her recipes would be gone forever.
So my brother and I asked our grandmother if she would be willing to teach us how to make manicotti, ravioli and crostoli (although I wish we had asked her to teach us even more!) She delightfully agreed, so we grabbed the video camera and off we went. Thank goodness we video-taped her because that was the only way we were able to transcribe the recipes! Three handfuls of this, a pinch of that...It needs to be this consistency...
But the reason I call these babies manicotti is because as nonna started flipping the crepes, she chuckled, saying, "Mani. Cotti! Mani. Cotti!" And laughed and laughed and laughed! You see, "mani" means hands. And "cotti" means cooked. So essentially, she was saying "Cooked hands! Cooked hands!" Because you need to use your bare fingers to flip the crepes and they sure do get hot after a while! To this day, I can't make manicotti without thinking of my grandmother laughing.
And I just want to give a shout out to my brother who now makes manicotti just as well as nonna did. When my mom broke her ribs before Christmas last year, I took over preparing Christmas Day dinner. I was supposed to have Christmas Eve dinner with my in-laws, so I had to wrap up my cooking early to shower, change and head out East. I simply ran out of time and did not get a chance to make the manicotti. My wonderful big-bro stepped in and made them for me. They were amazing!!!! Even nonna gave her nod of approval and the rest of the family agreed they tasted just like hers. It was then that he reminded me of one critical step to getting the shells as light and delicate as hers. So, thanks big-bro!
I hope you make nonna's manicotti one day. And if you do, chuckle along with nonna when you flip your crepe and say, "Mani. Cotti! Mani. Cotti!"
Nonna's Manicotti Recipe
Yields: approx 24 manicotti
1 Tbsp butter
pinch of salt
7 heaping Tbsp flour
1/2 cup water
1. Place butter in a small 8" skillet (approx 5-1/2" base) and let froth, then turn off stove.
2. In bowl, mix eggs and salt. Beat quickly; add 1 Tbsp flour and mix. Add another Tbsp and mix. Mixture will not become smooth. Continue until all flour is added.
3. Place a strainer in a large bowl. Add batter mixture into the strainer and stir, pushing with the back of a spoon to pass through the strainer. This will help to eliminate any clumps and make the batter thin.
4. Add melted butter to the batter and wipe skillet clean.
5. Pour water through the strainer into the batter. If the batter is too thick, add a little more water.
6. Heat skillet on highest flame.
7. Pour a little bit of batter into skillet. Move batter around to cover bottom and pour excess back into the bowl. Place pan on burner. When edges just begin to curl (about 3-4 seconds), using both hands, flip the crepe. Let it cook for 4-5 more seconds then remove to a dish. Continue to make crepes and stack. The crepes will not stick together. NOTE: Crepe cooks in a few seconds per side. DO IT QUICKLY or it will be over cooked. Crepes should not turn brown.
8. Set crepes aside.
3 lbs of Ricotta Cheese Lite
A few Spoon-fulls of fresh, chopped parsley
7 Fist-fulls of Parmigiano cheese plus more for sprinkling on top
1. In bowl, combine ricotta and parsley; mix well.
2. Add Parmigiano cheese and egg; mix thoroughly.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Line bottom of casserole dish with tomato sauce. Spread evenly.
3. Place spoon-full of ricotta mixture into crepe. Fold in sides, then roll.
4. Place manicotti side-by-side, seam side down, in the casserole dish.
5. When the casserole dish is filled, sprinkle generously with Parmigiano cheese, then cover with sauce. Be sure to cover everything!
6. Place in oven for about 10 minutes. The sauce should start to boil.
MAKE-AHEAD TIP: Manicotti freeze incredibly well. Cover with plastic wrap, then tin foil, then another layer for plastic wrap. Can be frozen a month in advance. When ready to cook, remove casserole dish from the freezer and let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours (optional). Reheat in the oven until sauce is boiling, about 30 minutes if defrosted, about an hour if placed directly from freezer to oven.