Neapolitan Cannelloni (Manicotti)

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This is how I explained Neapolitan Cannelloni (also known as manicotti) to my son: “Imagine blintzes, but filled with a lasagna cheese filling and topped with tomato sauce and melted cheese. My son pondered this for a while and then said, “Okay, that sounds good.”

It is good. It tastes like lasagna, but with a more delicate texture because crepes (or, as they are called in Italian, “crespelle”) replace the usual pasta.

If you want to make this recipe gluten-free, you can use a crepe recipe based on potato starch instead of flour. I have made this on Passover with Passover crepes with huge success.

If you are already making blintzes for Shavuoth, make extra crepes. Once you have the crepes made, this recipes is a complete snap to make (especially if you use bottled tomato sauce instead of homemade marinara).

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Note: If you google manicotti and cannelloni, you will see that there is some confusion as to the difference between the two dishes.  Some say the two are interchangeable, some say that the difference is that cannelloni have a bechamel sauce instead of marinara on top, and some say that cannelloni are properly made with pasta sheets while manicotti are made with crepes.

My recipe is based on two similar recipes, both from Italians, one of whom calls the dish cannelloni and one of whom calls the dish manicotti. I went with cannelloni because I made Delma Kelechava’s recipe first (before adding some changes from Stephanie Rhode’s recipe), and Delma calls this cannelloni.

What do the experts say? Well, Lucinda Scala Quinn has a recipe for cannelloni that is similar to this recipe. Mario Batali has a cannelloni recipe that is pasta sheets rolled with cheese filling and topped with bechamel and marinara. Lidia Bastianich has a cannelloni recipe that is stuffed pasta topped with bechamel and a manicotti recipe that is crepes filled with cheese and topped with marinara.

So, it is probably more accurate to call this manicotti (maybe), but since most people associate manicotti with pasta tubes, I still prefer cannelloni.

Neapolitan Cannelloni
Loosely adapted from a recipe from Lee Iaococca’s sister Delma Kelechava, with some inspiration from Stephanie Rhode’s recipe for Manicotti Crepes with Marinara Sauce.

3-4 cups marinara sauce (see below, or you can use a bottled sauce)
8-12 8″ crepes (see below)
cheese filling (see below)
4 mozzarella sticks
grated Parmesan cheese
grated mozzarella cheese (optional)

Spread a layer of marinara sauce (about a cup, maybe a cup and a half) on the bottom of a rectangular casserole pan (either 8″x10″ or 9″x13″).

Put a line of cheese filling down the center of each crepe. Top the filling with a strip of mozzarella (split a mozzarella stick into two or three thinner strips and use one thin strip per crepe). Roll up each crepe and place them side by side in the casserole pan over the tomato sauce.

Top the line of filled crepes with more marinara sauce, maybe another 2 cups of sauce. Sprinkle over the top of the casserole some grated Parmesan cheese. If you like, you can also sprinkle over grated mozzarella cheese.

Bake the casserole at 350 degrees, uncovered, for about a half hour, or until the dish is bubbling hot and the cheese is melted and starting to brown on top.

Cheese filling for Neapolitan Cannelloni
1 1/2 lbs. ricotta cheese (not traditional, but you can substitute farmers cheese)
salt and pepper, to taste
2 eggs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup grated mozzarella

Combine the cheeses, seasoning and eggs. Refrigerate until needed.

Crepes for Neapolitan Cannelloni
1 cup flour
1 cup skim milk
4 eggs
butter

Combine the flour, milk and eggs in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Let the crepe batter rest in the refrigerator for an hour.

When you are ready to make the crepes, heat a non-stick crepe or omelet pan (8″ diameter is good, but you can use a somewhat smaller or larger pan) over medium heat. Melt about 2 Tbl. of butter in the pan. Pour the melted butter into the crepe batter. Stir the butter into the crepe batter. Put the greased pan back over medium heat.

Pour about 1/3 cup of crepe batter into the hot greased skillet. Swirl around the batter to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. Let the batter cook until the top of the crepe no longer looks wet and the bottom of the crepe is dry, but not browned. Flip out the cooked crepe and repeat with the remaining batter. You should be able to get 8-12 crepes. If you use a smaller pan, you will get more crepes; with a larger pan, you will get fewer crepes.

Marinara Sauce for Neapolitan Cannelloni
You can use a good bottled sauce for the cannelloni, or you can make your own sauce while the crepe batter is resting in the refrigerator. Traditionally, the sauce should be made with canned whole tomatoes and no tomato paste, but I like to add tomato paste to my sauce. I will give you both the traditional way and my way of making the marinara.

4 Tbl. olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (or, if you want to leave the garlic in the sauce, you can mince it)
28 ounce can of whole tomatoes OR 6 ounce can tomato paste (preferably with Italian seasonings) and 14 ounce can whole tomatoes
sugar, to taste (optional)
1/4 tsp. dried oregano, or more, to taste (or you can used some fresh basil)

Puree the tomatoes until smooth. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a heavy pot over low heat. Heat the garlic until fragrant, but do not let it brown. For a more delicate taste, remove the garlic slices before adding the tomatoes.

If you are using just pureed whole tomatoes and no tomato paste, add the pureed tomatoes and seasoning to the pot. Simmer the sauce for about 40 minutes.

If you are using tomato paste as well as pureed whole tomatoes, first add the tomato paste to the pot. Stir it around to cook it a bit and to combine it thoroughly with the oil. Add a cup of water. Stir everything together well. Add the pureed tomatoes and seasonings to taste. Simmer for about 40 minutes.

 

The Kosher Connection, an informal group of creative kosher food bloggers from all around the world, proudly present our monthly kosher recipe challenge.  Each month we will present you with recipes on a different theme from all the kosher food bloggers.

This month is Shavuoth!

 

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