spinach + cheese manicotti

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas at my parents’ house without doing things in excess.  And, whatever you think “excess” is, you should probably double it.  Frankly, if you’re coming by for dinner, wear something comfortable because by the time you leave, your clothes aren’t going to fit as fetchingly as they did when you walked in the door.  I’m talking belly-bulging pants-unzipped discomfort – with a blissfully delirious smile, that is…

Now, to get us on the same page, let me paint a picture for you and run through our typical menu to illustrate the feast that is our Christmas dinner, an eight-hour marathon beginning at 1:00PM with intermittent naps dispersed throughout.  Did I mention that 90% of this meal is prepared single-handedly by my mom (a glutton for punishment) for a meager group of eight to ten adults and a couple of small children?

Clam dip
Assorted olives
Mixed nuts
Panzarottis or “freitalas”
Pepperoni and mozzarella stuffed bread
Antipasto stuffed bread
Assorted puff pastry hors d’oeuvres
Champagne punch

Antipasto / Seafood
Antipasto platter with prosciutto, salami, soppressata, provolone, and olives
Fresh mozzarella
Roasted red peppers
Freshly baked crusty bread
Mussels marinara
Baked clams oreganato
Shrimp scampi
More bread
Did I say bread yet?

Meatballs, sausage, braciole

Roasted beef tenderloin with au jus
Parmesan potato pie
Green bean almondine

Apple pie
Cannoli cake
Cherry cheesecake
Assorted homemade cookies (cuccidati, pignoli, butter, rugelach, peanut butter kisses, snow balls)

Have I lost you yet?  If I was a betting woman, I’d say you’re either drooling or disgusted after working your way down that list.  Glutton that I am and shamefully proud of it (is that possible?), I’m in the first category.  Yes, it’s a lot of food, but this is how we roll.  Go big or go home.

When I found out my mom was thinking of cutting the pasta course this year due to her crazy schedule, I was dumbfounded.  That would be breaking tradition.  And then what?  Just go from seafood and antipasto to meat?  No pasta intermezzo <giggle>?  In that moment, I decided someone needed to step up and I was most certainly the gal for the job.  It wouldn’t be Christmas without homemade manicotti.

Today, I bring you my take on these luscious crepes of ricotta cheesey goodness; Italian-American comfort food at its best.  I stayed mostly true to our family recipe and added some chopped spinach in for color and flavor. And, yes, while the recipe below looks a bit lengthy, they’re really a piece of cake.  You can do it!

Spinach & Cheese Manicotti
Yields 20

6 eggs
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup water
Pinch of salt
Extra light olive oil

3 cups ricotta
3 eggs, beaten
8 ounces of mozzarella, shredded
¾ cup fresh grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
¼ cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
¾ tsp. salt
1 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach, thawed

2 quarts of meat or marinara sauce
Fresh grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano

Special equipment:  small cast iron skillet (approximately 5-inches)

Preparing the crepes:

Beat eggs in a large bowl until well mixed.  Add flour, water, and salt and whisk well until batter is smooth.

Preheat cast iron skillet over medium flame.  Set up a small ramekin with olive oil and a pastry brush alongside the stove.  Cut a few large sheets of wax paper and place nearby on the counter.

Brush the inside of the skillet with oil.  It’s time to work fast:  Use a potholder to grab the skillet handle (very hot!) with one hand and pour in a scant ¼ cup of the batter.  Swirl the batter so it disperses completely on the bottom of the skillet and just a hair up the sides all the way around.  If batter sets before skillet is coated, reduce heat slightly for next crêpe.

Cook until just set, about 20 – 30 seconds.  Flip with a spatula or your hands (daredevils only) and cook for an additional 5 – 10 seconds.  Transfer from pan to the wax paper and repeat the process until all of the batter is gone.  It’s probably not necessary to oil the skillet for every crepe;  more like every other one.

Let the crepes cool completely.  At this point, you can begin the stuffing process or store them in the refrigerator or freezer.  For best storage, layer about four crepes per sheet of wax paper and gently transfer two to three sheets into a gallon-sized resealable bag.  The top layer of crepes should have an empty sheet of wax paper pressed on top.  Repeat this process with remaining ones.  These should keep in the refrigerator up to two days or in the freezer for a month.  If you freeze them, defrost them at room temperature for several hours before filling or move them to the refrigerator the night before filling for proper thawing.

Filling the crepes:

Combine the ricotta, eggs, mozzarella, parmesan, parsley, and salt in a large bowl until well mixed.  Wring out thawed spinach with your hands over a strainer.  Then press spinach into the sides until you’ve expunged as much water as possible.  Use a spatula to gently fold the drained spinach into the ricotta mixture until evenly distributed.

Scoop scant ¼ cup of ricotta mixture onto the middle of a crepe.  Gently fold each side of the crepe up over the filling.  If top of crepe doesn’t stay down, wet it with a little cheese mixture and press.  Repeat until all are filled.  These can be frozen for up to two months and saved for a rainy day at this point in time or baked now.

Baking the manicotti:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Generously spoon some marinara or meat sauce into the bottom(s) of  one to two baking dishes, using enough to completely cover the bottom.  Arrange stuffed manicotti seam side up* on top of the sauce.  Be sure to pack them in snugly to ensure they stay closed while baking and prevent excess filling from seeping out.  Spoon a couple cups of sauce over the top of the manicotti to ensure they are covered and remain moist while baking.  Sprinkle with some grated cheese and bake for 35 minutes.  Remove from oven and let stand for five minutes so the cheese can set.  Serve with more sauce and grated cheese.

*Every recipe I’ve come across calls for baking seam side down.  My family has always baked seam side up.  This can pose an issue if yours are not staying shut.  If you cannot get them to stay closed, bake seam side down.  It’s not going to make or break this dish.


11 Responses to “spinach + cheese manicotti”

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  1. ted says:

    uhm uhm…can I join you in that feast??

    • KarmaCucina says:

      Maybe next year??? There’s plenty of room around our table! Actually, let’s barter… I want to come over and eat some of your mom’s pho.

  2. Melissa says:

    Wow Alyss…sounds amazing!! I might have to join you guys next year for the pasta course.

  3. Wow, all that food sounds amazing! And the manicotti look delicious 😀

  4. Smetna says:

    This dish looks fab! My fiance is allergic to eggs, is there another ingredient to substitute for the eggs?

    • KarmaCucina says:

      I apologize for taking so long to respond. You really stumped me on this one. I suppose I kept hoping I would come up with a perfect solution, but I haven’t yet. This is what I’m thinking for now:
      This recipe might be a good option for the manicotti crepe:

      As far as the filling, I would either completely leave out the egg and just go w/ the ricotta-mozz-spinach combo OR try substituting some silken tofu for the eggs.

      Let me know how you make out!

  5. Madonna says:

    I have been thinking about this recipe since you posted. It looks so good. How many does this serve? I see where your crepes make 20, but I was wondering what portion size you would serve say maybe with a salad and a good bread. I would like to downsize this for my trial run before I take it to the next gathering.

    It must be crazy and fun to be at your house for holidays. I would be in so much trouble.

    • KarmaCucina says:

      I think a healthy serving size is two manicotti per person. We usually eat it with a piece of meat from the sauce (sausage, meatball, or brasciole), a side of salad, and some bread. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

  6. Madonna says:

    Oops, I forgot to ask what brand ricotta you use.

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