I love manicotti. For all their heavy Italian ingredients–it's seriously cheese and egg overload–they're incredibly light and tender. My mother always made them from scratch and only on special occasions, I tradition I reinstated one year for a milestone wedding anniversary "surprise" for my parents. It's one of the first recipes (if not the first) that I undertook on my own, digging out her old card while they weren't home and faking confidence the entire time. This one's been scaled way up–it's for guests or freezing–but can easily be dividing down for one or two trays. And remember: it was simple enough for a teenage me with zero cooking experience to complete to rave reviews.
Yield: 4 trays
12 large eggs
6 cups water
3 cups flour
1.5 teaspoons salt
4 lb (6 cups) fresh ricotta
4 large eggs
2.5 oz (1.5 cups) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/3 cup dried parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 lb mozzarella, sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick pieces
tomato sauce, as needed (about 3 cups per tray)
1. Crack eggs, beat, and add water. Sift in flour and salt, then stir batter until just combined. Force through a mesh sieve into another bowl to remove lumps.
2. Lightly brush an 8-inch nonstick skillet with oil and heat until hot. Ladle about 1/4 cup batter into skillet, tilting and rotating to coat and reducing heat if crêpe sets too quickly. Cook until underside is just set and lightly browned, about 30 seconds, then flip and cook other side for the same amount of time. Invert crêpe onto a clean towel to cool completely. Repeat for remaining crêpes, brushing skillet with oil as needed and stacking crêpes in piles.
3. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425°F. Stir together ricotta, eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, parsley, salt, and pepper. Spread about two cups of tomato sauce on the bottom of baking dish or trays.
4. Arrange 1 crêpe, browned side up, on a work surface, then spread about 1/4 cup filling in a line across center and top with a mozzarella strip. Fold in sides to enclose filling, leaving ends open, and transfer, seam side down, to baking dish. Fill remaining crêpes in the same manner, arranging snugly in one layer. Spread about one cup sauce over manicotti. Repeat for remaining trays.
5. Tightly cover trays with foil and bake until sauce is bubbling and filling is hot, about 25 minutes. Serve any remaining sauce on the side and grated cheese.