Monday, December 19, 2016


My Aunt Rita always made manicotti for Christmas Eve, and my cousin Barbara continues the tradition to this day. The family recipe came from my grandmother, who got it from her mother-in-law, a great-grandmother I never knew. When Nanny made manicotti, she used a black iron skillet so smooth and slick from years of use that the pancakes - called crespelle in Italian - slid right out onto a plate. I can picture her standing at the stove, effortlessly turning them out, so it was with no trepidation that I decided to make them for the first time.

I was 24 years old and as fearless in the kitchen as I was inexperienced. On my lunch hour, off I went to Woolworth’s to buy an 8-inch cast iron skillet. It wasn’t black; it was disappointingly gray, but it came with instructions how to season it, which I presumed would quickly turn it black and non-stick. Ha. Following the directions more than once – many times more than once - did nothing to make it smooth and slick enough to make the pancakes. No how, no way. After going through eggs and flour at a rapid rate with no success, I picked up the phone in my Kansas City kitchen and called my mother in New Jersey to ask her to post-haste mail me Nanny’s skillet.

“Hi, Mom, will you send me Nanny’s manicotti skillet, please?”

“I can’t. I got rid of it.” 


She just, without thinking or asking anyone (specifically me), tossed out something that today is the kind of skillet articles are being written about, and people are scouring backyard sales in search of and, if found, plan to leave to their children. In fact, that very skillet probably – hopefully – found its way into somebody else's kitchen.

Next up was Aunt Rita. This was a time when long-distance phone calls were very expensive, and random long-distance calls were not something I could afford from my paycheck as a secretary. I usually reserved any questions I had for the weekly phone call from my mother on Sunday morning, so my aunt, who lived in Illinois, was a little surprised to hear from her slightly frantic niece. It turned out she used a non-stick skillet. The one I went and got at Woolworth’s was ugly and flimsy - orange with a gray non-stick interior - but it did the trick, and soon enough, I too was standing at the stove effortlessly turning out pancakes, one after another, onto a plate.

I now successfully use my 8-inch Anolon skillet along with a 2-ounce ladle to correctly portion the pancakes. This is literally the only time I use a non-stick pan. 



This recipe makes about 13 manicotti. Three to four manicotti are usually enough for one serving (except for one Christmas Eve in Atlanta when my cousin Gene ate eleven).

This recipe can be easily doubled for six to eight people - or more. My aunt used to put the filled unsauced manicotti on top of cornmeal-strewn sheet pans in the freezer. Once frozen, she would pop the unsauced manicotti into freezer bags for easy storage until she was ready to bake them.  


I use Melissa Clarke’s Simple Tomato Sauce for this recipe.  

Special Equipment

An 8-inch skillet (I use one by Anolon, which is non-stick.)

A 2-ounce ladle




If you chill the filling first, it's easier to roll up the pancakes because the filling doesn't spread. One hour is usually enough; two is better, and you can make it a day in advance.

1 15-ounce container of whole milk ricotta

4 large eggs, beaten

1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

¼- to ½-pound mozzarella  (You can use packaged "dry" mozzarella for this or "fresh." I grate it by hand on the large holes of a box grater.)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Black pepper to taste – be generous

A tiny amount of grated nutmeg or ground cinnamon (Aunt Rita used cinnamon so I do too.)

A little salt to taste, keeping in mind that the Parmesan cheese is salty


Mix the filling ingredients together. Start with the ¼ pound of mozzarella, and only add more if the filling is too wet.




The pancake ratio can be almost infinitely increased. For the filling made with one 15-ounce container of ricotta, which usually makes enough for four people, I  make the pancake batter out of


2 large eggs

¾ cup all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur)

1 cup water


Whir the ingredients in a blender, and let sit for one hour to settle down before making the pancakes.


Put a small amount of a neutral oil (I use refined peanut or expeller-pressed grapeseed) in a small dish or saucer.


Dip a paper towel into the oil, and swipe it lightly over the bottom of an 8-inch skillet. Heat the pan over medium heat until hot.


Make pancakes using approximately 2 tablespoons of batter per pancake. The exact amount depends on the diameter of the bottom of the pan you are cooking them in, which can differ from 8-inch pan to 8-inch pan. For the 8-inch Anolon pan I use, a 2-ounce ladle portions it out perfectly.  

Pour the batter in the hot pan, and immediately swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. When the pancake is cooked on one side, turn it onto a plate with the cooked side up.  (I just turn the skillet upside down, and it plops right out.) I don't cook the second side. The pancakes can be stacked one on top of another. Keep working until all the batter is used up. 

Prepare the Baking Pan

Lightly butter a half sheet or quarter sheet pan depending on how much you are making. Coat the pan with a thin coat of whatever tomato sauce you will be using.  



Take a pancake with the cooked side up. You will put the (best if chilled) filling on the cooked side. Put about 2-½ tablespoons of the filling onto the crepe, and roll it up like a cigar, not too tight as it will puff up a little when it cooks. Place it seam side down in the prepared half sheet pan. 


When the pan is filled with stuffed pancakes - now manicotti - put a thin coating of tomato sauce over everything, and place it in a 325°F oven, and bake for 30 to 45 minutes. You want the manicotti hot enough so the cheese inside melts. Serve as is or with a little more sauce on top. 

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Plain Pancake

Stuffed But Not Sauced Manicotti

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