Every Thanksgiving, before the traditional turkey, my Italian-American family eats a pasta course: my mother's manicotti. Many years ago, to bring the family closer together, she decided to invite my cousins over the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and enlist the kids in making the pasta cylinders with a filling of cheese and ham bound with egg. Nobody knows exactly when the first "manicotti night" was, but I remember that cracking an egg was still a daunting task for me. Nowadays, my four sons and niece and nephew do just about all the work, and I've watched Mom teach each of them how to avoid getting eggshells into the filling—and how to sneak a little extra cheese in at the last second so it's just right.—Greg Ferro
- 1 1⁄2 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large yellow onion, minced
- 5 tbsp. tomato paste
- 1⁄3 cup finely chopped parsley
- 1⁄3 cup finely torn basil leaves
- 1 (28-oz.) can whole, peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 4 oz. deli ham, finely chopped
- 4 oz. mozzarella, cut into 1/4″ cubes
- 1 cup ricotta
- 3⁄4 cup finely grated Parmesan
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup flour
Make the sauce: Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and onions, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, and cook, stirring, until lightly caramelized, about 2 minutes. Add 2 tbsp. parsley, basil, tomatoes, and 1⁄2 cup water, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced and thickened, about 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Make the filling: Combine 2 tbsp. parsley, ham, mozzarella, ricotta, 1⁄4 cup Parmesan, and 1 egg, season with salt and pepper, and stir until smooth; set aside.
Make the pasta: Whisk together remaining eggs, flour, salt, and 1 1⁄4 cups water until smooth, and let sit for 20 minutes. Heat an 8″ nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3 tbsp. batter, and swirl skillet until completely covered; cook, turning once, until set but not browned, about 1 1⁄2 minutes. Invert pasta circle onto a sheet of wax paper, and set aside to cool; repeat with remaining batter to make about 16 pasta circles in total.
Heat oven to 350°. Pour half the sauce over bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking dish; set aside. Working with 1 pasta circle at a time, place about 2 tbsp. filling down the center of each, and roll the pasta circle around filling into cylinders. Transfer cylinders, seam side down, to dish; pour remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Bake until filling is heated through and sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes. Garnish with remaining parsley.