I love it when you put a bit of time, effort and a whole lotta love into making a comforting, welcoming, nourishing, belly-filling, smile-producing meal that is gobbled up so quickly that you don't even get a chance to take the photo of it all beautifully plated up... well, I love everything about it apart from not getting my "money shot".
slightly adapted from Lidia Matticchio Bastianich's Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen
Serves 4 -6
For the Crepes:
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/2 cup soda water
1 tablespoon sugar
Grated zest 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups plain flour
90g butter, melted
Very small amount of vegetable oil for frying
For the Sauce:
800ml tomato passata
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 small carrot, roughly chopped
1 stick celery, roughly chopped
2 dried bay leaves
Sea salt flakes
For the Filling:
500g fresh ricotta
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
1 cup mozzarella, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon finely ground white pepper
Make the Crepes:
Put the eggs in a large mixing bowl and whisk to break them up. Pour in the milk, water and soda water and whisk again. Add the sugar, lemon zest and salt and whisk them in. Add the flour a little at a time, whisking constantly until all the flour is incorporated. Whisk in the melted butter.
Heat a crepe pan (or low sided frying pan), on medium heat and smear with the smallest amount of oil. Pour a 1/4 cup of the batter into the pan and swirl the pan so that the batter spreads out into a thin layer. Let the batter cook for about 30 - 40 seconds, until bubbles begin to appear on the surface, then flip the crepe and cook on the other side for about 1 minute or until lightly browned. Slide the crepe onto a baking tray and start cooking the next crepe in the same manner. Continue until all the batter has been used and you have a stack of about 20 crepes. Set the crepes aside.
Make the Sauce:
Put the onion, carrot and celery into a food processor and blitz until it is a fine mush.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the blitzed vegetables over medium-low heat. Sprinkle with a little salt and cook for about 10 minutes until golden and softened.
Add the passata, bay leaves and chilli flakes and bring to boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes until it is a deep red colour. If it becomes too thick add a little water, you want it to be a pourable consistency. Season to taste.
Make the Filling:
Put the ricotta into a mixing bowl and break it up with a fork. Add the eggs and salt and mix together. Add 1/2 cup of the mozzarella cubes, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, parsley, pepper and nutmeg and stir until well blended. Set aside
Assemble the Dish:
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.
Pour 1/2 cup of the sauce onto the base of a baking dish (one that is big enough to fit all the rolled crepes in one layer), and spread it evenly over the bottom of the dish.
Take one crepe at a time and lay it on a clean plate. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the filling down the centre of the crepe and then roll it up. Arrange the crepe, seem side down, over the sauce in the baking dish. Continue filling and rolling the crepes and placing them side by side in the baking dish, until all the crepes are used. Pour the remaining sauce over the manicotti and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan. Cover the dish with foil and poke a few holes on the foil.
Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and add the remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella cubes over the top and continue baking for another 20 minutes until it is heated through and the cheese is bubbling and golden.