Even though I was a picky eater as a child, there was one meal that always got me to clean my plate….Grandma’s Manicotti. It usually graced the table during the holidays or special birthdays. I didn’t appreciate back then that everything from the sauce to the shells was made from scratch. I did know it was the most delicious meal I had ever had and I couldn’t wait until the next time it was served to me.
When I got married, one of the gifts Grandma gave to me was her recipe for the manicotti shells. It is one of those legendary family recipes. You cherish it and it always brings you back to Grandma’s house when you are eating it.
I made Grandma’s manicotti today. I got up first thing and made the spaghetti sauce recipe that I grew up eating. I have to talk to my mom and Grandma more to learn the background of the sauce. It is probably a basic Italian ragu but to me it is magic. The richness of the tomatoes seasoned with the lively flavors of onion, garlic, oregano and basil have always warmed my soul.
I’ve developed a standard cheese mix I use for Italian stuffed pastas like manicotti, lasagna, and ravioli. I combine a pound of ricotta, 2 cups of miscellaneous Italian shredded cheeses, parsley, 2 eggs, salt and pepper. I have found this particular ratio makes a light yet satisfying filling.
The highlight of making homemade manicotti is making the shell. It resembles a French crepe with the exception that it has a much higher egg to milk ratio and no butter. The batter is spread thinly in a shallow fry pan and cooked until lightly brown.
This is also the most physically time consuming part of the project. I always play music while doing this because you never entered Grandma’s kitchen without hearing the radio playing.
I use a Ziploc to disperse the cheese mixture. I have found it to be the easiest way to insure each shell receives the same treatment and it sure is a lot easier to clean up.
The hardest part of making homemade manicotti is the wait for it to come out of the oven. The aroma of the dish baking just makes my mouth water and stomach growl.
When the timer went off tonight, I flew into the kitchen. I always delight in that first bite of savory goodness. I think of my Italian side of the family and know they would all want to be at my table sharing the experience.