Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Manicotti al Tre Formaggi e Marinara







     A New York Italian Classic! 
     Manicotti is one of the most popular entrees that there is.  The flavors of good Italian cheese and tomato sauce are simple and appealing.  This entrée is a favorite of dairy tolerant vegetarians and those who want to feel comfortably full, especially when the weather is chilly.
     Manicotti is usually made with Crespelle instead of pasta.  Dried large tube pasta for Manicotti is a very thin gauge and it is easily damaged, so the thin tube pasta can be difficult to work.  Italian Crespelle are the same thing as French Crêpes, but the amount of sugar in the recipe is minimal when the Crespelle are used to make savory recipes, like Manicotti.
     The Crespelle batter for Manicotti usually has a slightly thicker consistency than a batter that is designed for desserts, so there are no lacy tiny holes in the finished Crespelle.  A slightly thicker batter also yields a slightly thicker Crespelle too.  Cooking at a slightly lower temperature than what is needed for French Crêpes also results in Crespelle that have no golden brown highlights.  This way the Crespelle truly look like thin gauge pasta.
     I have made tens of thousands of Crespelle in Italian restaurants.  In Italian restaurant kitchens, I used 3 seasoned non-stick pans on 3 burners set to a medium low flame to rapidly turn out enough Crespelle for a few days business.  A cook has to be very quick to handle 3 crespelle pans at a time over a medium low temperature.  Once the temperature of the pans is just right, things move quickly in rhythm and the Crespelle production is rapid.
     Manicotti are usually 6" to 8" long.  If 6" long Manicotti is preferred, then the Crespelle should be about 7" in diameter, because the ends of the rolled Manicotti will have to be trimmed so they are even.  To make 7" diameter Crespelle, the flat bottom surface of a non-stick sauté pan has to be 7" wide.  Basically, the diameter of the flat bottom surface of the non-stick sauté pan will determine the size of the Crespelle.  Some Italian restaurand take pride in grand portion sizes.  For extra large Manicotti, use a wide non-stick sauté pan with a 9" to 11" flat bottom to make extra large Crespelle!    
     Salsa di Pomodoro is the traditional choice of sauce for Manicotti.  Salsa di Pomodoro holds up well when baked in moderately high oven temperatures and this sauce has a rich fully cooked tomato flavor.  If Salsa di Pomodoro is preferred, follow the link to the recipe in this website:  Salsa di Pomodoro.
     Marinara can also be used, but the high proportion of olive oil in this sauce will separate when baked.  This is because Marinara is designed for sauté recipes or quickly made pasta recipes.  If Marinara is used, then any excess olive oil should be drained off before serving the Manicotti.  Marinara is a popular choice for Manicotti, because the fresh bright tomato flavor goes well with cheese.  The Cheese Manicotti in the photo examples was made with Marinara.
     Some may ask why a French Cru de Beaujolais wine is pictured with the Manicotti in the photos.  The answer is simple.  A fine Beaujolais it made with an Gamay Grapes, which were introduced in France by the Romans in ancient times.  Gamay Wine has a low tannin level and it is gentle on the palate.  This allows the Italian cheese flavors to mingle with this ancient Italian grape varietal in a nice way!      
 
     Marinara Sauce:
     This recipe makes 3 or 4 portions of marinara sauce!

     Tre Formaggi:
     This recipe yields about 2 3/4 cups of Italian 3 Cheese Mix.  (Enough for 4 Manicotti that are 6" long.)
     Never add salt and pepper to any ricotta cheese mixture or the sweet fresh flavor of the ricotta will be overwhelmed.  Salt will also change the texture of the fresh ricotta cheese curds.            
     Step 1:  Place 2 cups of  ricotta cheese in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1 cup of grated mozzarella cheese.
     Add 1/2 cup of fine grated Parmigiana Cheese.
     Add 1 raw large egg.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of minced basil.  (optional)
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced Italian Parsley.
     Step 2:  Thoroughly mix the ingredients together.
     Refrigerate the Italian 3 Cheese Mixture to 41ºF, so the texture becomes stiff. 

     Crespelle:
     This recipe yields about 9 or 10 Crespelle that are 7" in diameter.
     The width of a flat bottom surface of a non-stick sauté pan is what determines the width of the Crespelle.
     • 7" diameter Crespelle are needed for making 6" long Manicotti, because the ends will be trimmed.  For this size, select a non-stick pan that has a flat bottom surface that is 7" wide. 
     • The batter should be made just thick enough, so the Crespelle texture is not lacy and the Crespelle is the thickness of thin sheet pasta.  The consistency of the batter is best judged by eye.  
     Step 1:  Place 4 large eggs in a measuring cup.  (About 1/2 cup)
     Add an equal amount of milk.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt.
     Add 2 teaspoons of olive oil.
     Step 2:  *The exact amount of flour may vary.  About 3/4 cup to 1 cup is needed.
     Add a small amount of flour at a time while whisking, till a thin batter is formed.  The batter should be thick enough to evenly coat the back of a spoon.
     *The batter should be slightly thicker than a French Crêpe batter.
     Step 3:   
     Heat a non-stick sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.  (7" wide bottom surface pan)
     Lightly brush the pan with olive oil.
     Pour enough Crespelle batter into the pan to evenly coat the flat bottom surface with a layer that is about 1/16" thick.  (1 1/2 to 2 ounces of batter.)
     Tilt the pan, so the batter spreads over any holes and so it forms a round crêpe shape.
     When the thin Crespelle becomes firm, use a thin rubber spatula to flip the Crespelle.
     Briefly cook the other side till the batter is solid.
     Step 4:  Check the quality!
    *To test the consistency, one Crespelle can be made as a sample.  If the Crespelle is to thin, add a little more flour to the batter.  If too thick, add a little more milk.  ...  The Crespelle should look like a pale yellow pasta color.  If light browning occurs, reduce the temperature slightly or cook the Crespelle for less time.  If the Crespelle is just right, save it for making Manicotti! 
     Step 5:  After checking the quality and/or making adjustments,  Continue making Crespelle till all the batter is used.
     Set the Crespelle side by side on a sheet pan, so they cool quickly.
     Stack the cooled Crespelle and cover them with plastic wrap.
     Chill the Crespelle till they are needed.  
     *Crespelle can be kept chilled for 2 to 3 days before they discolor.  Crespelle can also be frozen for later use.  

     Manicotti al Tre Formaggi:
     This recipe yields 1 entrée portion.  (Two 6" long Manicotti.)
     A  3 1/2 ounce to 4 ounce scoop is good for measuring each portion of the Italian 3 Cheese Mixture.
     Step 1:  Place 2 Crespelle that are 7" wide on a countertop.
     Place about 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup of the Tre Formaggi mixture on the center of each Crespelle.
     Spread the cheese mixture, so it forms a tall even mound across the middle of the Crespelle.  The thickness of the cheese will be the thickness of the Manicotti.  The long mound of cheese on each Crespelle should be about 3/4" to 1" tall.
     Step 2:  Roll each Crespelle into an even Manicotti tube shape, while applying just enough pressure to distribute the cheese evenly inside the Crespelle tube.
     Step 3:  Trim the ends, so the Manicotti are the same length and the cheese is flush with the end of the Crespelle tube.
     Step 4:  Spread 3/4 cup of Marinara Sauce on the bottom of a small roasting pan, as a bed for the Manicotti.
     *An oval shaped individual portion casserole dish is best for Manicotti, because the casserole dish can be set on a plate when served.  The problem is finding one that is big enough for 2 Manicotti!
     Set the 2 Manicotti side by side on sauce.
     Step 5:  Place the pan (or casserole dish) in a 350ºF oven.
     Bake till the cheese stuffing becomes warm.  (About 8 minutes.)
     Step 6:  Remove the baking pan from the oven.
     Pour about 3/4 cup of the Marinara Sauce over the center of the Manicotti.
     Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of grated mozzarella cheese over the sauce.
     Step 7:  Place the Manicotti pan back in the 350ºF oven.
     Bake till the mozzarella cheese topping melts and the Manicotti is piping hot.  (About 5 minutes.  The center temperature should be about 165ºF.)
     Step 8:  Remove the pan from the oven.
     Use a large long spatula to transfer the Manicotti to a serving plate.
     *Be careful when picking up Manicotti with a spatula.  It is easy for the cheese stuffing to leak out!
     Pour any excess sauce from the baking pan on the plate around the Manicotti.  
     Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of fine grated Parmigiana Cheese over the Manicotti and Marinara Sauce.
     Garnish with an Italian Parsley sprig.

     Manicotti is an Italian classic entrée that is guaranteed to satisfy a big appetite!

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