When my husband was alive, he worked for a small printing company south of Boston. Any number of interesting political, entrepreneurial, business owners, the scandalous and the saintly, would cross his threshold for printing needs. One of the nicest folks were the Dragone ricotta and mozzarella cheese folks. In the process of order taking, my husband learned they had a booklet of recipes using their products, and for a discount on their printing services, he obtained the booklet for me (after mentally inflating the price by ten percent and then offering them a ten percent discount; I leave it to you to decide if he were scandalous or saintly). It has been this booklet that I have referred to for some of the best authentic Italian cooking that I know.
To start, I do not buy the manicotti tubes; I cannot figure out how to stuff them neatly without the tubes splitting down the side or having big gaping holes where the cheese was not tamped in far enough. Thankfully, Dragone did include a crepe batter recipe, which works like a charm and gives me the added satisfaction of presenting something homemade.
Crepes for Manicotti
1 cup flour
1 cup milk (or more as needed to achieve a thin-pancake batter consistency)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
(each mixture makes 8-9 manicotti shells)
Stir milk gradually with flour until smooth Add, stirring constantly, the beaten egg to which the salt has been added. For each shell, brush a preheated 6-inch frying pan with olive oil, and pour 1/4 cup of the batter into the pan, tilting back and forth so that it spreads evenly.
When set on one side, turn and let the other side set. Slide off pan onto a clean work surface or dish and repeat until batter is used. (I separate the crepes with a piece of waxed paper to prevent them from sticking to each other).
Let cook slightly, then place 2 tablespoons of filling in the center of each crepe, (I usually make a cheese "log" as I like a lot of cheese) bringing the sides over so that they overlap the filling. Arrange side by side in a baking dish, cover with tomato sauce and sprinkle with grated Romano or Parmesan cheese.
1 pound ricotta
1/2 pound mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
salt and pepper to taste (taste the mixture before adding the salt; the cheese is already salty)
(you can also add 1/4 pound chipped Italian ham)
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mixing well to combine. (Yes, I am still brand loyal to Dragone after all these years.)
Everyone has their favorite; this is my go-to tomato sauce for just about everything that needs a tomato sauce. If I were to make a cacciatore, I would start with this sauce and add peppers and larger hunks of onion. For Spanish rice, add the necessary spices, black olives, etc. and add it to the rice. For a meat sauce, add 1/2 pound each ground hamburg and Italian sausage (casing removed).
3 tablespoons olive oil (a couple of good swirls)
1 small onion chopped (I like onion, I add 2)
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon parsley
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 large can Italian tomatoes
1 can (6 ounces tomato paste)
1 small carrot grated (to add natural sweetness and a well-disguised veggie!)
salt to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon and adjust)
Heat oil oil in sauce pan, add onion, garlic and spices. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent but not browned.
Add remaining ingredients and simmer gently for about 45 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Tomatoes can be a little acidic, so you may need to add a pinch more sugar. If the sauce seems too thick while it is simmering, add 1/4 cup of hot water.
I found this meatball recipe on Recipezaar and they are just about perfect. I never fry my meatballs, opting to bake them in the oven when I bake my manicotti or lasagna. I think they hold up much better; I just serve them on the side or add them to my tomato sauce, depending on what I'm doing. I've shared this recipe with a couple of friends and we all agree, these are mighty fine.
They make a terrific addition to a meatball sub. Catch my next post.