Only in America! You Can’t Get These Manicotti in Italy

I’ve been eating at North Beach’s da Flora for over two decades and never had a bad meal there. When my friends and I want to share a leisurely family-style 4-course meal we always head to da Flora on Columbus.

As the seasons change my network buzzes. Everyone wants to know what Spring bounty has made its way into the da Flora kitchen. The hand-written menu constantly evolves as spring progresses.

Jen McMahon, the genius in the da Flora kitchen, scours the local markets to find the best local organic ingredients. Jen is a master at giving her Italian inspired food a Bay Area Slow Food twist.

We’re making manicotti and this dish will certainly be controversial with my fans in Italy. You will not find manicotti (little sleeves) on a menu in Italia. Italians call this dish cannelloni (little pipes) made with either crespelle (crepes) or pasta.

Jen and I both grew up on the east coast immersed in the southern Italian immigrant food traditions they brought with them. But now our Italian ancestors were cooking in America using ingredients available in their local markets.

I loved my Mom’s manicotti. We called them “manigot” in the Neapolitan dialect.

When friends were in town recently we headed to da Flora and there on the menu were these spring manicotti. We had to have them as part of our pasta course and they were superb.

So here is Jen’s San Francisco version of manicotti for you to make in your kitchen. It’s a simple dish featuring the best of the early spring bounty, broccoli di rape for the delicate ricotta filling and early sweet red spring onions, mellow green garlic and fresh oregano for the marinara. The aged provolone grated on top makes this simple dish soar.

This recipe makes 8-10 manicotti. Serve two manicotti per person. While light, they are pleasantly filling.

Crespelle (Crepes)

Ingredients

  1. 2 eggs
  2. 2/3 cup all-purpose unbeached flour
  3. 1 cup whole milk
  4. A pinch of sea salt
  5. A sprinkle of extra virgin olive oil.

Instructions

  1. Put all of the ingredients in a blender or mix by hand in a bowl.
  2. Be sure all of the flour is incorporated. You want a very smooth mixture with no clumps of flour.
  3. Chill the crespelle batter for about 15 minutes.
  4. Put a small sauté pan (we used a 9-inch pan) over medium-high heat and add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.
  5. Coat the bottom of the pan with the oil.
  6. When the oil starts to shimmer lower the heat to medium and pour in about a half-cup of batter to form a thin crespelle that thinly fills the bottom of the pan.
  7. When the crespelle starts to brown at the edges in about a minute flip the crespelle over and cook for a minute more.
  8. Take the crespelle out of the pan and put them on a paper towel lined plate in a single layer.
  9. Set the crespelle aside.

Marinara Sauce

Ingredients

  • 3 stalks green garlic, trimmed
  • 3 stalks red spring onions, trimmed
  • 1 bunch fresh oregano, use the leaves only, stripped from the stalk and chopped
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 28-ounce can of San Marzano DOP tomatoes (use 2 cans if you want to have some sauce left over for future use)
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Put a pot over medium-high heat and add the oil
  2. When the oil starts to shimmer reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic and onion.
  3. Stir the onions and garlic and saute until translucent (you don’t want to pick up any color).
  4. Add the tomatoes and stir.
  5. Bring the marinara sauce to a simmer.
  6. Add the oregano, sugar, salt and pepper to the marinara and stir well.
  7. Cook until the sauce, stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens and reduces by about a third in volume.
  8. Take the marinara sauce off the heat and set aside to cool.

Filling

  • 2 cups whole milk ricotta, drained if necessary
  • 1 bunch broccoli di rabe, blanched and chopped.
  • Sea salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 pound grated provolone to sprinkle on top of the manicotti before putting them in the oven.

Instructions

  1. Drain the ricotta in a strainer over a bowl if there is a lot of whey (white watery liquid).
  2. Bring a small pot of water to a boil over high heat.
  3. Blanch the broccoli di rape stalks in the boiling water for a minute or so.
  4. Drain the broccoli di rape.
  5. Put the broccoli di rape in a food processor and pulse several times to mince.
  6. Add the ricotta and salt and pepper to the processor and pulse to mix the ingredients together.

Assembly

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Layer a casserole dish with a layer of marinara. (You can bake the manicotti in individual dishes or make them all in a larger casserole dish.)
  3. Lay out the crespelle on a work surface and put a tablespoon of filling in the middle of the crespelle.
  4. Fold up one side and then the other.
  5. With the folded side down, put the manicotti in the casserole.
  6. Add a dollop of marinara on top of each.
  7. Spinkle the grated provolone on top of each.
  8. Put the manicotti in the hot oven and bake until the provolone melts and lightly browns, about 20 minutes.
  9. Serve immediately.