Spinach-Cheese Stuffed Crepes with Marinara
This is a company-worthy recipe for stuffed manicotti that uses freshly made crêpes instead of pasta tubes to house the filling. When topped with a homemade marinara, the result is a light, delicate dish that is sure to become a favorite. Both the manicotti and sauce can easily be made ahead of time, then assembled and baked just before serving.
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (plus more if needed)
- 1-1/4 cups whole milk
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- For the filling:
- 1 package (10-ounce) frozen spinach, defrosted and well drained
- 1 pound ricotta cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 cup finely shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
- For the sauce:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 4 cups diced Italian plum tomatoes, undrained
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons chiffonade of fresh basil
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, flour, milk, melted butter and salt until smooth and well combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour to allow the mixture to thicken. While the crêpe batter chills, make the sauce and the filling.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking until fragrant, about 1-1/2 minutes longer. Add the tomatoes, oregano and optional crushed red pepper. Stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste and allow to simmer, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the fresh parsley and basil, remove from the heat and set aside.
Mix the well-drained spinach (see notes) and ricotta cheese in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then add the nutmeg and beaten egg. Stir in 1/2 cup of the shredded mozzarella and all of the parmesan. Set aside while you make the crêpes.
Place 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil in an 8-inch nonstick pan and rub it over the bottom and sides with a paper towel. Heat the pan over medium heat and add about 3 tablespoons of the batter to the center of the pan. Quickly lift the pan from the heat, tilting and rotating until the batter coats it completely in a thin circle. As soon as the crêpe appears set and "dry" (about 30 seconds), flip it over and cook until barely browned - 20 to 30 seconds more. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining batter. Stack the cooked crêpes on a plate. You should end up with between 14 and 18 total.
Note: If, after making the first crêpe, you feel the batter is a little too thin, whisk in a some more flour - 2 or 3 tablespoons should be plenty.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
To assemble the dish, spray a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with nonstick spray. Spoon about 1 cup of the marinara in the bottom of the dish and spread around with a spatula. Place one crêpe on a flat surface and spread a scant 1/4 cup of the filling on one side, about 1 inch in from the edges. Gently roll the crepe to form a tube, making sure the filling is evenly distributed. Place seam side down in the prepared baking dish. Repeat with the remaining crêpes. Spoon marinara sauce over the top and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of mozzarella.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil that has been sprayed with nonstick spray and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 5 to 7 minutes longer, or until the cheese on top turns a light golden brown.
Allow the dish to stand for about 10 minutes before serving.
Makes about 16 manicotti
It is important to drain the spinach very thoroughly. We recommend placing it in cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel and wringing out all the excess moisture prior to mixing it with the cheese.