Manicotti with Sheep's Milk Ricotta by Chef Maria Sinskey

Manicotti with Sheep's Milk Ricotta by Chef Maria Sinskey
Recipe courtesy of Chef Maria Sinskey of Sinskey Vineyards.

Maria advises that the pancakes can be made a day ahead and stored at room temperature between sheets of wax paper overnight. The sauce can be made two or three days ahead and stored in the refrigerator. It’s not necessary to reheat the sauce before assembling the manicotti, as they will be thoroughly heated in the oven.

For the manicotti pancake batter:
Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until smooth, then mix in two cups of water and the olive oil, lightly beating the eggs, oil, and water together. Stir as you pour the egg mixture into the flour. Stir in the liquids very slowly to avoid lumps. Beat until smooth. Let the batter rest 20 minutes covered. Brush or spray a seven-inch diameter non-stick crepe pan with olive oil. Pour just under two ounces of the batter into the pan and roll it around to thinly cover the bottom. You can measure this with a two-ounce ladle or a measuring cup slightly less than ¼ cup full. If the batter seems too thick, add a little water and stir so that the batter will easily spread as you roll the pan around to coat the bottom. Cook on one side until the batter is set and the edges begin to curl from the sides of the pan. Use enough heat to cook the crepes quickly. Flip the pancake over and cook for a few seconds on the other side. Stack the pancakes between layers of wax paper with the pale side of the pancake up. Let cool. The pancakes can be stored at room temperatures overnight. Wrap them tightly with cling wrap after they are completely cool. Makes about 40 pancakes.

For the tomato sauce:

Maria says that it’s far better to use good canned tomatoes than inferior fresh ones, and she’s right. Both organic canned tomatoes and tomato paste are available. If possible, they should be just tomatoes—no salt or citric acid added. If they do contain salt, omit adding any more salt to the recipe. If the canned tomatoes have basil with them, that’s fine. In fresh tomato season, use eight pounds of fresh, organic, ripe Italian plum tomatoes like Roma or San Marzano.

If using fresh tomatoes, blanch them and remove the skins. If using canned, drain the tomatoes and reserve the juice. Now the procedure becomes the same. Working over a bowl, cut out the hard spot where the tomato attached to the plant. Gently open the tomato and let juice and seeds fall into the bowl. Tear the tomato into chunks and place in another bowl. Repeat until all tomatoes are done. Pour the juice and seeds through a strainer held over the tomato chunks. (If using canned tomatoes, pour the reserved juice from the cans through a strainer held over the tomato chunks.) Discard the seeds. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and onions and cook until the onions are golden. Add the garlic and cook further until the onions are lightly browned. Don’t let the garlic burn. Add the red wine. Turn heat down to medium low and simmer for five minutes. Add the tomato chunks and juice, tomato paste, chopped herbs, crushed red pepper, and two cups of water. Season with salt if desired. Add the sugar if the tomatoes seem too acidic. Add the fennel seed and bay leaf. Simmer uncovered over low heat for 1 ½ hours if using canned tomatoes, or two to three hours if using fresh, until the sauce thickens and the flavors have married. When finished, remove the bay leaf.

For the ricotta filling:

In a large bowl, mix everything together but the eggs. Beat the eggs lightly and fold in until thoroughly mixed.

The Method:

Place two heaping tablespoons of the filling along one edge of each pancake and roll it up. Ladle some of the sauce in the bottom of a glass or ceramic baking dish to coat, and place the manicotti, seam side down, in the dish. After the dish is full of manicotti, ladle more sauce over the top to cover. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake at 350°F. for 40 minutes. Uncover for the last 10 minutes of baking.