There are so many ethnic stereotypes, especially when you watch sitcoms from previous century, especially when the setting is New York City. My favorite was The Honeymooners when the Italian lady upstairs who spoke no English was known as “Mrs. Manicotti”. In all the decades I’ve been alive and having grown up Italian in America, never once have I known of any Italian from any part of the world with the name manicotti. Perhaps, somehow, if there were, it would be pronounced “manigot” anyway.
This is one of my most favorite Italian dishes of all time. I remember only getting it around the holidays and not even at home but at my Aunt Rosie’s house because no one else had the time or patience. Today it has been turned into such a vile dish by so many over the years to the point where it is not only recognizable but hardly appetizing. They even sell pasta shells in the supermarket from my least favorite brand that has an Italian spelling but is made in America and called “manicotti shells”. Nonsense. If you are going to go that route, just make stuffed shells instead, at least they look more attractive and are far more authentic.
To be clear, it is not complicated at all, it is just time consuming and there are 3 separate steps.
- Cook & Prepare the Sauce either Marinara or basic tomato sauce, your choice, the recipe is here and is the building blocks of most traditional dishes.
- Make the Crepes
- Assemble & bake the Manicotti
Again, none of these tasks are complicated, in fact, they could not be more simple, but it does take time and attention and at least 2 hours, if not 3.
Once the sauce and crepes are made, set and preheat the oven to 350F
The filling is easy and this should make enough to fill about 10 crepes:
- 1 large fresh egg
- 1 small container of whole milk ricotta
- lemon zest if desired
- Salt & Pepper
- Grated cheese
- Fresh chopped parsley
Use a spatula and mix it all together well. Let it rest for a few minutes then get a crepe and using a spatula smear the crepe with the ricotta mixture but avoid the edges. Fold each side over, essentially so it is folded into thirds.
In a glass oven dish put some marinara sauce on the bottom and start to place your manicotti in there one by one, side by side.
Top with more sauce then spread your mozzarella on top in a layer or two, depending on how much cheese you like. Remember this is a very heavy dish and contains a lot of milk, eggs, cheese and yes more cheese. I find that 4-5 fit in a standard dish. Better if you can get a larger dish to accommodate 6 because I think that the serving size should be 2 per person.
Next place the manicotti in the center rack for about 45-55 minutes. It all depends, so keep an eye on it every 15 minutes or so. Some will say cover the top with tin foil for the first half of the cooking, but it is not necessary. If you like it a bit more well done like I do, just keep it in there another 15-20 minutes.
No matter what it must rest for 10-15 minutes. Don’t worry it will still be hot when you go to eat it, but it does need time to settle and if you serve it fresh out of the oven you will need first aid. Allow it to rest and cool off for a bit.
The one below is one that looks like it cooked far too long, but this is what I love. A nice brown crunchy top, well done, delicious. Like I said, it is all according to your tastes.