Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Mafia and Manicotti

I recently discovered that my Western Pennsylvania hometown was a hotbed of Mafia activity when I was growing up.  I’d heard vague rumors but had no inkling of specifics until I came across a book called “Little Chicago: A History of Organized Crime in New Kensington, Pennsylvania.”

All I can remember is that this small mill town on the Allegheny River
was home to many different nationalities.  Every summer I looked forward to attending the annual Polish Picnic, Syrian Picnic, Greek Picnic and Italian Picnic, where I got to sample wonderful homemade foods I never ate at home. 

After reading “Little Chicago” and learning that Catoris Candy Store, which I occasionally visited for a candy fix, was the location of one mobster’s office, I began thinking about my favorite ethnic foods.  Suddenly I had a great craving for Manicotti, which I ate regularly when my family went out for dinner.  Because Manicotti is basically the Italian version of Blintzes, I adapted my Blintzes recipe to make it.
Manicotti – serves 6- 8 
1 1/2 cups flour 
1 1/2 cups milk + more if needed 
3 large eggs 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon oil + more if needed
1 1/2 pounds (24 ounces) ricotta cheese 
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese + more to pass at the table 
1 large egg 
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley 

1 24-ounce can or jar spaghetti sauce 
First make the pancakes.  Combine the flour, milk, eggs and salt in a large bowl and whisk until the mixture is smooth.  Don’t worry about a few small lumps. 
Add the oil to a large, heavy frying pan (cast iron or non-stick, if possible) and begin heating over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, pour 3-4 tablespoons batter into the frying pan and, holding the pan’s handle, shake vigorously to spread the batter  into a rough 5-inch circle.  It’s okay if the pancakes are different sizes.  
You will need to move quickly because the frying pan is hot and the batter will begin cooking.  It may take you several tries before you master this technique.  You probably won’t need to add additional oil to the frying pan unless the pancakes begin to stick.   Cook each pancake for about 30 seconds, or until bubbles rise to the top surface.  Flip the pancake over and cook for about 5 seconds and then remove from the heat. 
Continue making pancakes and stacking them on a plate until you’ve used up the batter.  Set them aside while you make the filling. 
Combine the ricotta, grated Romano, egg and parsley in a large bowl and stir thoroughly. 
To bake the Manicotti, use your largest baking pan or 2 smaller pans.  Pour 1/2 cup spaghetti sauce in the bottom of the large pan or 1/4 cup spaghetti sauce into the bottom of each smaller pan.  Set the pan(s) aside. 
Begin preheating the oven to 350 degrees. 
Place 1 pancake on a plate and add 1 or 2 tablespoons ricotta mixture, depending on the size of the pancake.  Roll the pancake into a tube shape and place it, seam-side down, in the baking pan.  Repeat this process until you have used up all the pancakes and ricotta mixture. 
Spread the rest of the spaghetti sauce over the filled pancakes.  Cover the baking pan(s) with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Serve immediately with extra Romano cheese.
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