This manicotti made with homemade crepes is a recipe that has been in my family for generations. My Great Aunt Marie passed it down to me, and I'm so happy that she did. It's incredibly good. What really makes this manicotti recipe extra special are the homemade crepes. They are extremely light and tender, and something you can only achieve by hand. The ingredients to make manicotti are simple: eggs, flour, water, cheese, parsley, and a pinch of salt. I love making them and watching my family's faces light up when they take that first bite.
Cooking, in general, makes me happy, but there's something about making these crepes that can really pull me out of a funk. Maybe it's because I feel connected to my loved ones who are gone now, or maybe it's that you have to move your body to make them. Dancing and cooking are some of my favorite things.
Making these crepes takes a little getting used to, but it's easy once you get the hang of it. The trick is to make sure that your non-stick skillet is hot, that you move and twist quickly (this is where the dancing comes in), and that the crepes are nice and thin. To watch my manicotti moves, click on the video below.
When you spread the batter in the pan, you want to coat the entire bottom. I use a circular motion with my wrist to do this. I like my crepes thin, so I only add ¼ cup of batter to my ladle. If you find that your batter is too thick, thin it out with another teaspoon or two of water. Once you get going, it's really a lot of fun and kind of meditative. My Aunt Marie and my grandmother always had music blaring while they cooked. I do that too, and it makes cooking even more fun.
These crepes can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days. Just place a piece of wax paper between each one and then wrap the entire stack in plastic wrap.
I prefer filling the crepes and freezing them the day they're made. Once your crepes are filled and rolled, line a baking sheet with wax paper or parchment paper. Place the manicotti (make sure they don't touch) in a single layer, and freeze.
Once the manicotti with your spectacular homemade crepes are frozen, store them in a freezer bag. Your homemade manicotti will keep for months. When you want them, just pull them out of the freezer and follow the recipe for saucing and baking the manicotti. Genius really.
I typically serve these with marinara sauce, but you can serve them with a cream sauce. That's nice, too.
I hope this manicotti recipe makes you happy and becomes a family tradition for you and your family too.
Here's a little story about how making manicotti lifts my spirits.
I haven’t been myself lately.
For longer than lately, maybe.
My grandfather used to say this too. “I’m not myself,” he said, sitting in an upright chair in his living room, his feet flat on the floor, palms facing down in his lap. Just staring.
Before my grandfather got sick, he never sat in this chair. This chair was wing-backed, Victorian, confining. His chair was on the opposite side of the room. An oversized, tan recliner. He used to pull the lever all the way back, footrest up, ankles crossed. He puffed on an oversized cigar and watched reruns of M*A*S*H or the Beverly Hillbillies. He sat in this chair so much that my sister crocheted him a headrest to prevent his thick, silver mane from soiling the back of his chair.
“Come here, babydoll. Give your pap a kiss,” he would say to me, to her, to anyone.
In this new chair I would kiss my grandfather’s cheek and say, “Hi Pap, you doing okay, today?”
He would turn his head to me slowly, his eyes canvasing my face until he found something familiar.
“You feeling okay, Pap? Does something hurt?”
“No, “ he said. “I just feel...blah.”
I hated when he said this. Such a vague explanation ruined any hope for getting to the root of his malaise.
These days, I can’t seem to get to the root of my malaise, either.
Today I just want to make manicotti.
I turn to cooking and music to pull myself out of my funks.
I grab a metal bowl and some eggs. I beat the eggs with such vigor it scares me. Maybe if I whisk hard enough I can beat out all hurt, loneliness, embarrassment, and regret. I add water, salt, and flour and continue to whisk until I’m left with a thin, smooth batter.
I pour the batter into a six-inch skillet my grandfather bought me long ago. A skillet just for manicotti making. I flip the pancakes out onto a piece of wax paper, paper-thin. Like the crepes I’m making, I too am delicate and fragile, ready to tear at any minute.
I turn on Spotify and it plays Clifford Brown and Max Roache’s version of “Delilah.” The drums swing back and forth like a pendulum trying to find balance. The trumpet pleads and moans. The piano lurks beneath, brooding in the background.
I change the channel.
I find the Stevie Wonder station. This station plays Stevie’s, “Don’t you Worry ‘Bout a Thing,” Aretha Franklin’s, “Say a Little Prayer,” and Sam Cooke’s, “Bring it on Home to Me.” I start to feel better.
Now for the filling. I add ricotta, mozzarella, and Romano to a bowl. I add the eggs, parsley, salt, and pepper, and mix.
The next song that plays is Smokey Robinson’s, “The Track of my Tears.”
“Okay,” I think, “ It’s just one sad song. I can handle it.”
I scoop out heaping tablespoons of ricotta and plop some on each crepe.
Suddenly, I hear the opening strings of Stevie Wonder’s, “A Place in the Sun,” a song about finding your way in the world.
And that’s what I’m feeling, maybe. A little lost.
Jesus. That’s it. Forget this. Just like me, Spotify’s algorithms are all wrong.
I type in Tito Puente’s, “Dance Mania Vol.1.”
I love this whole album. It instantly puts me in a good mood, but today I’m not messing around. I go straight to my favorite song, “Mambo Gozon.”
The horns blurt out a bold introduction. The piano plays a fiery montuno. The rhythm of the percussion is quick and mesmerizing.
My hips sway. My head lifts and nods from side to side.
I roll each ricotta-filled crepe to the mambo beat.
I want to feel as full as this stuffed manicotti.
A horn plays a three-note melody. Another horn joins at each repeat, until the sound is full, growing and swelling, screaming and bursting.
I begin to cry despite myself. I place the manicotti in a baking pan and pour the sauce over them.
I bake the manicotti until the mozzarella melts and loses its shape, now indistinguishable amongst the other ingredients.
I sit down in my orange dining chair from Ikea. Feet flat on the floor.
Later, I put a piece of manicotti in a dish. I taste it. My hips sway and my head lifts and nods from side to side.
I ask myself, “You feeling okay? Does something hurt?”
Yes. But right now, I feel almost fine.
How to Make Manicotti with Homemade Crepes
- Wax paper
- A fine-mesh seive
- 10 eggs
- 2 ½ cups water
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 ½ cups flour
- 46 ounces whole milk ricotta drained
- 1 lb shredded mozzarella cheese
- 3 hard-boiled eggs small dice
- 3 raw eggs
- ¼ cup grated Romano cheese
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- a pinch of salt
- ⅕ tsp pepper
For the Crepes
- In a large bowl, crack 10 eggs and whisk thoroughly. Whisk in the water and salt. Add the flour a ½ a cup at a time, whisking in between. Your batter is ready when the flour is fully incorporated.
- Lay a few pieces of wax paper on your counter, overlapping them slightly.
- Heat a 6 or 7-inch non-stick skillet on medium-high heat. Ladle a ¼ cup of batter into the center of the hot pan, rotating the pan to fully cover it with the batter. (Watch the video above to see how to do this.) Once the batter becomes completely opaque (about 20-30 seconds), flip the crepe onto the wax paper. Repeat.
To Make the Manicotti
- Preheat your oven to 350°F.
- Set a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or a linen towel over a bowl. Add the ricotta cheese to the strainer and allow it to drain for 20-30 minutes. (You can do this before you make your crepes so you don't lose any time.)
- Add the drained ricotta to a large bowl. Add 3 diced hard-boiled eggs, 3 raw eggs, grated romano cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper, and mix well.
- Lay the cooled crepes out on your counter. Add a heaping tablespoon of filling to one side of your crepe. Starting on the ricotta side, roll the crepe like a cigar.
- Line a 9x13 pan with a few ladles of sauce. (You will need more than one pan to bake all the manicotti or use a larger pan.) Place the manicotti, seam-side down, in the pan. Ladle more sauce on top. Cover the manicotti with foil and bake for 40 minutes. This recipe will yield 30 crepes.