I want to share a very cherished recipe with you today, one I’ve been making since I was about 19 and the very first thing I learned to make (following a few disastrous forays into the lasagne realm when I was in high school.) Of course, there’s a story behind this dish. Shall I?
In 1984, I graduated from Cascade High School in Everett, Washington. To mark the occasion, one of my closest friends invited us over to her parents’ home for a celebratory dinner, grown-up style. We had amazing dinner music (This Mortal Coil), wine glasses—with no alcohol, of course—and the most delicious Italian dish I’d never before tasted: manicotti. Or, as the New Jersey Italians apparently called it, “Manigot.”
I remember during this meal of really being aware that some form of adulthood was just around the corner. I’d spent the latter part of my senior year immersed in the new and exciting world of new wave and in just a few months, I’d be diving headlong into college and the Seattle scene. My friends would also be going off in their own directions. It was exciting if not a little bittersweet.
After the meal, I begged my girlfriend’s mother for the recipe. She explained that though she wasn’t Italian in the least, her ex-husband was and that she had learned to make this years before in accordance with any Italian housewife worth her salt in the kitchen.
She shared the recipe with me and it has been one that I’ve trotted out over the years when I wanted a dish that would a) impress and b) taste amazing pretty much every single time.
It’s funny, because years ago this seemed like such an undertaking to create. But I’ve recently brought it back into my repertoire, realizing how simple and basic this dish is. In a sense, I’ve demystified it in the past few months, and it’s a good thing, too: my entire family eats it and likes it.
The other thing I love about this recipe is the ingredients are anything but extraordinary. They are simple and you can find them at any store. Yes, a little elbow grease is required to make the sauce and the pasta, but I promise you the results will be a melt in your mouth culinary delight.
We start with the ingredients for the sauce:
1 can tomato sauce (32 ounce can)
1 can tomato puree (32 ounce can)
1 can crushed tomatoes (32 ounce can)
2 cans tomato paste
7-10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 8-0z. packages mushrooms (finely chopped, baby bellas or buttons work well)
This sauce is so simple! You chop up your mushrooms into a small dice. Then you heat up a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat and toss ’em in. Sprinke in pepper and salt to taste (1/2 tsp of each), then throw in the garlic. Next, add in all of the cans of sauces and pastes. Stir and then I always add a cup and a half of water to thin it out a bit. I usually just fill the bigger cans with some water to help get all of the sauces out of the cans, then pour them into the pot.
Next, you cover the surface with a light coating of oregano, stir in it well, then cover with another thin layer of oregano, turn the heat to low, cover and simmer. All day long.
What if you or your kids don’t like mushrooms? You can do what I do. I strain a little of the sauce to make a small pan of no-mushroom manigot. Or, you can just enjoy it because honestly, it doesn’t come off as a mushroom-y sauce. Trust me.
Keep on low, stirring throughout the day. Enjoy how good your house smells during the process.
Next up, the manigot themselves. The shells are actually just crepes. Just flour, eggs, milk and oil.
CREPE BATTER/MAKING THE PASTA
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 cups milk
2 T vegetable oil
Combine adding milk and flour alternately and beat until you have a smooth, thin creamy mixture. (I use a hand mixer.) Add a few tablespoons of water to ensure it is thin enough to easily spread out on a hot griddle. (I end up adding 4 to 6 tablespoons of water to make the consistency a bit thinner. Or even a few more tablespoons of milk.) If you have time, put the batter in the fridge to let it rest for up to an hour.
To make the crepes, use a griddle or crepe pan. Heat to medium/medium high to start. Oil the pan and pour about 1/4 cup of the batter onto the pan, tilting the pan to create a large, thin crepe. The thinner the better. The goal is to create a 6-inch or so crepe, and not to overcook it. Trim off any excess of the crepes that come from the pouring and pan tilting motion. Lightly grease the pan before making each crepe. Store them between sheets of wax paper so they won’t dry out while cooking. Make as many as your batter allows for. Mine usually makes between 20 and 25, which is more than you will need.
part skim milk ricotta cheese (two small containers or one large)
2 – 3 teaspoons dried parsley (I omit this for my picky kids)
2 cups shredded mozerrella
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (freshly grated)
Combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl, and mix well. I usually include around 1/4 cup of the freshly grated parmesan in the mixture, saving more for sprinkling on top once the pans are assembled.
Take one of the crepes and about 3 to 4 spoonfuls of the ricotta mixture into the center of the crepe and roll up like a burrito. Repeat.
ASSEMBLE THE DISHES
I use two 9 x 13 glass Pyrex casserole pans to assemble the dish. Ladle a generous amount of sauce in the pans. Lay in the manigot. Cover with more sauce and spread around to cover the exposed pasta areas. Sprinkle with parmesan, cover with foil and place into a 375 degree oven.
Cook for 25 minutes covered, then take off the foil and cook for another 15 for a total of around 40 minutes. The pans should be bubbling.
Now this is a horrible shot, taken after the sun set in my incandescently lit kitchen, but you get the idea.
The surprising thing is that each manigot comes out to about 150 calories, and a scoop of the sauce around 50. It’s not as high calorie as you’d think. That’s just a bonus.
I love this dish for its taste and the memories it evokes each time I smell the sauce and with each bite that melts in my mouth.
It reminds me adulthood is just around the corner.
Here is a downloadable PDF of the recipe: