Manicotti (pronounced (man-ee-cot-tee) are Italian crêpes, called crespelle, filled with cheese, topped with just a bit of sauce, and baked. They are a perfect light start as the “primo”(first) course for a special Italian meal. Because making the crespelle is a bit labor intensive—they have to be made one by one—we don’t often have manicotti at my house. I made these at home this past Easter for dinner, so I thought I would share the method.
A few words about what are called manicotti in America. Many of you have no doubt tasted manicotti made with pasta tubes in an Italian-American restaurant or have seen manicotti pasta tubes in the grocery store. And yes, the pasta tubes are about the same size as the “tubes” we will make when we roll up our crespelle. And yes, our filling will work well in these pasta tubes or large pasta shells for a quick meal. But for true manicotti made the southern Italian way, as passed down by my Mamma Rosa, the shells must be light crespelle, not made from boiled pasta.
Also, I have to say that I completely forgot that manicotti can be topped with sauce and a bit of grated mozzarella cheese. But please (I am begging here), please do not “drown” your manicotti in sauce or a pool of gooey mozzarella cheese, as some restaurants do. Then the crespelle will become soggy, and you will not be able to taste the delicate flavors of the cheese filling!
To see the method to make Italian crespelle in real time, watch our Stella Lucente Italian You Tube Channel. Visit the Learn Travel Italian Pinterest site for photos of how to put together your own manicotti. Try our recipe and amaze your family with something new!
Ingredients for Italian Recipe: Manicotti from Mamma Rosa
For the crespelle (crêpes)*
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 Tbsp olive oil
For the cheese filling
15 oz. good, fresh Ricotta cheese**
6 oz. mozzarella (not buffalo mozzarella) cut into small cubes***
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced, stems removed
1 jar (26 oz.) homemade or favorite tomato sauce
Make the crespelle batter
Put 1/2 cup of the milk and the rest of the ingredients into a mixing bowl.
Beat briskly with a whisk until all lumps of flour have dissolved. (This may take a little bit of time and produce small air bubbles if done thoroughly.)
Add the remaining 1/2 cup of milk and beat with the whisk again.
Let batter rest for 1 hour in the refrigerator. This will let any remaining particles of flour absorb into the batter and relax any gluten that may have formed during the mixing. The rest allows for a more tender and less “doughy” crespelle.
Method to cook the crespelle
To cook the batter to make the crespelle, you will need a small frying pan that heats evenly and holds the heat well. A crêpe pan works best, of course!
The technique is a little tricky, and the crespelle must be cooked one at a time. But once the method is mastered, you should have a batch of about 8–10 crespelle in no time!
- Brush the pan with olive oil and then heat the pan over medium-high heat.
- Pour approximately 3 Tbsp of batter into the center of the pan.
- Off heat, tilt the pan around with a circular motion so that the batter thins out and forms a round crêpe about the size of the pan.
- Place the pan back on the heat again and cook until the edges of the crêpe become whitish and the inner portion yellow and partially solid.
- Using a spatula, flip once and cook briefly (about 30 seconds).
- Remove to a plate to cool.
Watch our video “How to Make Crespelle” on the Learn Travel Italian YouTube Channel.
Assemble the Manicotti
One at a time, place a crespelle on a separate plate and stuff with the ricotta mixture to make a manicotti as follows:
- Place the crespelle with the second side up (the side that cooked briefly after flipping) onto a plate or work board.
- Place 1–2 Tbsp of ricotta filling in a line down the middle.
- Fold one side of the crespelle over to the center.
Repeat with the other side and overlap to make a tube shape with open ends, similar to a large penne pasta. Seal the overlapping edges in the center with a drop of water.
Have a baking pan ready with a layer of spaghetti sauce on the bottom.
Place the manicotti into the pan.
Continue to make manicotti and place them into the pan, making as many rows as possible to fill up the pan.
When the pan has been filled, pour a bit of your favorite tomato sauce to make a “line” of sauce over the center of each row of manicotti. Don’t put too much sauce over the manicotti, or the crespelle will become soggy.
Above all, please don’t drown your manicotti in mozzarella cheese! If you like, put a small amount of shredded mozzarella over the top of the sauce line.
Bake in a 350° oven about 15–20 minutes, or until the mozzarella cheese has melted and the manicotti have crisped a bit.
Serve with tomato sauce on the side.
*There are, of course, many variations on how to make crespelle batter. Some use more egg or less flour. Others don’t use olive oil. I’ve found that the recipe for crespelle batter given above works the best with the pan that I have available at home. If adding more egg, the batter may stick to the pan. Less flour makes a watery batter that is a little difficult to deal with without a true crêpe maker. If you have a favorite crêpe batter, you can use that, although crespelle are traditionally a little bit thicker than crêpes.
**This dish showcases how delicious ricotta cheese can be. So please use only creamy, fresh, good quality ricotta cheese, from a specialty store if possible.
*** For the mozzarella cheese, the hard mozzarella cheese holds up better and has more flavor to add to the dish than buffalo mozzarella. The slightly nutty flavor of fontina cheese is also wonderful in this filling, although it is not “authentic” because it is a northern Italian cheese, and the dish is southern Italian.
—Adapted from Primi e Secondi Piatti Italian cookbook from the Italian-American Society of Peoria; recipe by Rose Schimmenti Occhipinti and Kathy Occhipinti
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, is the author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books and a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
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Italian Recipe: Manicotti from Mamma Rosa