Manicotti

Stuffed manicotti recipes come in two general styles: The first is a red sauce joint classic with large store-bought manicotti pasta tubes, a cheese filling, and sometimes ground beef. The second uses thin homemade crepes (crespelle in Italian) instead of manicotti shells, yielding a more delicate result. This recipe takes the latter route, and according to BA’s own (totally biased) Brad Leone, it’s the best manicotti recipe of all time.

Making crespelle may take a bit of getting used to, so don’t be discouraged if the first few tries aren’t perfect—once they’re covered in cheese and sauce, no one will see their flaws. (Watch Brad’s method here.) The spinach filling is easy, but be sure to use whole-milk ricotta cheese—the skim stuff will make the dish watery, and squeeze the frozen spinach to get rid of excess moisture.

This recipe is a project, but all the prep time is worth it. If you’re looking for a shortcut, store-bought tomato sauce works fine, but making your own marinara isn’t difficult and can bubble away while you perfect those crepes. The work is easily split up over two days: On the first, make the ricotta mixture and the pasta sauce and refrigerate both. On the second, make the crespelle and assemble. Double the recipe for maximum efficiency, then pop one in the freezer to bake a few weeks later. Garnish the bubbling manicotti with a drizzle of good olive oil and more Parmesan, and round the meal out with a big green salad and crunchy garlic toast.

Ingredients

6–8 servings

Crepe Batter

6

large eggs

(156 g) cups all-purpose flour

½

tsp. Diamond Crystal or ¼ tsp. Morton kosher salt

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

Filling and assembly

2

large egg yolks, beaten to blend

lb. whole-milk ricotta

8

oz. low-moisture mozzarella, grated

1

oz. Parmesan, grated, plus more for serving

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2

10-oz. boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained (optional)

3

Extra-virgin olive oil for serving (optional)

Preparation

  1. Crepe Batter

    Step 1

    Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat 6 large eggs in a large bowl until light, airy, pale in color, and can nearly hold peaks, 6–8 minutes.

    Step 2

    Reduce mixer speed to low. Gradually add 1¼ (156 g) cups all-purpose flour and ½ tsp. Diamond Crystal or ¼ tsp. Morton kosher salt, beating well between additions, until no clumps of flour remain. With mixer speed on low, slowly pour in 1½ cups water and continue to beat until well incorporated. Cover and let batter rest at least 2 hours (this gives the flour time to hydrate and results in a smoother finished texture).

    Step 3

    Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium and spray with nonstick vegetable oil spray. Pour 2 Tbsp. batter into skillet and cook, swirling skillet constantly to encourage crepe to form a nice round shape, until set, 15–20 seconds. Tap out crepe onto a clean towel; gently flatten any creases. Repeat with remaining batter; if possible, do not stack crepes.

    Do ahead: Batter can be made 1 day ahead of time; keep covered and refrigerate.

  2. Filling and assembly

    Step 4

    Preheat oven to 350°. Mix 2 large egg yolks, beaten to blend, 1½ lb. ricotta, 8 oz. mozzarella, grated, and 1 oz. Parmesan, grated, in a large bowl; season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Squeeze out excess liquid from two 10-oz. boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained (if using), and add to egg mixture; toss to coat.

    Step 5

    Spread 1 cup marinara sauce, preferably homemade, in a 13×9″ baking dish. Working one at a time, spoon 2 Tbsp. cheese mixture in center of crepe, spreading all the way to the ends. Roll up crepe, then flatten slightly with your hands. Transfer seam side down to prepared dish. Working in batches if needed, repeat with remaining crepes and filling, leaving a small gap in between each. Top with remaining sauce (2 cups marinara) and cover with foil. Bake manicotti until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling, 35–45 minutes. Let manicotti cool slightly in dish to set, about 15 minutes. Top with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil (if using), Parmesan, and freshly ground black pepper before serving.