Italian Easter Dinner

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Some of my mom’s best recipes were served at Easter Sunday dinner. One of her specialties was manicotti. She would prepare the meal days in advance starting with a thick gravy (AKA tomato sauce with meat in it) loaded with meatballs, spareribs, braciole, chicken wings and this weird stuffed pigskin thing called “goo-din-na”. It was full of robust flavor, sweet tomatoes and fresh basil. Next came the pasta which was really a homemade crepe. She’d make dozens of them often having two pans swirling at the same time. The delicate pasta pancakes were then loaded with a ricotta filling and smothered in that sauce.

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This is my favorite meat sauce from Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cook Book

If you happen to be hosting Easter dinner (or any other dinner for that matter) or lucky enough to be invited to a potluck supper then this recipe is for you. The sauce and crepes can be made a few days in advance and the dish assembled the day before. In addition, I hide a little spinach in the filling making it a bit healthier.

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The rumors are true. Italians don’t buy those hard pasta tubes in the box. After you try this recipe featuring these very thin pancakes you will understand why. It makes the dish so much lighter. Double bonus is that the crepes can be made in advanced and stored in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for months. Just stack the cooled crepes separating each with a square of wax paper and then wrap tightly in plastic wrap or in a freezer bag. Don’t fret if the crepes are not perfectly round. No one will know! Trust me.

 

For assembly, I usually lay out every crepe on the counter. Divide the filling evenly among them spooning it down the center. Fold the sides up and over enclosing the filling.

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Manicotti

1 cup milk, skim milk or water

¾ cup all purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

butter for greasing pan

Ricotta Filling

1 pound ricotta cheese

1 cup shredded mozzarella

½ cup chopped cooked spinach, well drained

2 eggs

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

pinch of nutmeg

2 cups of your favorite tomato sauce or “gravy” (recipe follows)

Prepare crepes. In bowl, whisk milk , flour and salt until smooth. Add eggs; blend well. Heat a crepe pan or 8-inch round non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Melt just enough butter in pan to lightly grease it. Using a 2-tablespoon measure pour crepe batter into pan swirling to spread batter over bottom of pan. Cook until edges appear dry and crepe appears set. Turn and cook other side maybe 20 seconds. Both sides should be slightly golden in color but not brown. Transfer crepe to cooling rack. Repeat with remaining batter, buttering pan as needed. Makes about 16 crepes.

Prepare filling. Combine ricotta, mozzarella, spinach, egg, parmesan, basil, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a bowl; blend well. Heat oven 400F. To assemble: spread 1 cup of tomato sauce over bottom of a buttered baking dish. Fill each crepe with 3 tablespoons of ricotta filling. Roll loosely to enclose filling and place seam side down in prepared baking dish. Spread remaining sauce over top. Sprinkle with additional parmesan and mozzarella cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until bubbly.

Prepare meat sauce. In stock pot, melt 3 tablespoons butter with 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup each diced onion, small dice carrot and chopped celery; cook 3 to 4 minutes or until softened. Add 1-pound ground beef breaking up meat with a wooden spoon and cooking until no longer pink. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Add 1-cup dry white wine. Increase heat to medium-high and continue cooking until wine has evaporated. Add ½ cup of milk, reduce heat and cook until mixture again appears dry. Add 1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes. Cook, uncovered, on very low heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. 

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My mom & William celebrating his homecoming

Happy Easter and Happy Spring ❤

25 thoughts on “Italian Easter Dinner

  1. Lisa – This was eye opening! I had no idea about this method for making manicotti with crepes. I made a large batch of crepe batter yesterday morning and have half left over. I also happen to have a few small containers of ricotta and some mozzarella in my refrigerator. I think I know what is happening in my kitchen later today. 🙂 Thanks for sharing these wonderful food memories from your family’s kitchen.

    • I’d say this post was perfect timing for what you have in the fridge. How fun! You will never buy those thick, heavy hard pasta tubes again…. I hope 🙂

  2. I make these for Christmas Too! So good. How cute your Mom is. Are you lucky enough to still have her in your life?

    • Only have my mom in spirit now, but I was very lucky to have her until she was 89 years old. She lived independently in the home I grew up in until her very last day and I can only hope for the same for myself.

  3. May not have time to make these for Easter this year, but I’m definitely giving them a try! They sound delicious. I love that picture of your Mom and William. Such love.

    • Thank you, Helen. If you have never done manicotti this way you really are in for an authentic Italian treat ❤

  4. We are not Italian but my mother used to make these ricotta filled crepes for us during the holidays, too. We would also make these for breakfast crepes filled with fruit and cream cheese. They are light and delicious and I think I need to make them with ricotta and sauce again. Thanks for the recipe! Happy Easter to you and your family.🐇

    • So glad to hear that your mom cooked these and that your appetite has been whetted. My kids loved breakfast crepes with jam in the middle and powdered sugar on top. It was a Sunday treat before church.

  5. Thanks for sharing this recipe! I copied it and I will definitely be trying it! And that’s a beautiful photo of your mom and William. Blessings to you and yours this Easter Lisa!!!!!!

    • You are very welcome and I hope you enjoy it. Happy Easter, Ronna. Can’t wait to see what springs from your gardens.

  6. Ever since a friend with whom I worked gave me the manicotti crepe recipe, I have never purchased the shells again. Soooo good! I love making them for family and friends.

  7. Lisa, thanks for the recipe. I’ve been wanting a great sauce recipe. New idea for me too. Have s Blessed Easter.

    • Oh my dear lady, so happy for your comments. I suggest using San Marzanno brand tomatoes for making the most well balanced sauce. Blessings to you, too!

  8. I forgot about the Goodina or whatever that was. I’m sure it added a ton of flavor but yeah that was weird, lol.

    • Mom would roll it up stuffed with garlic and herbs; tie it with string. Dad loved it, but no eating pig skin here…just never will be a thing for me

  9. Lisa, we had this for dinner tonight and it was delicious! I also had never heard of using crepes, but I’ll never go back to the rubbbery tubes. This was so much lighter. Thank you for sharing.

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