Here is a divine recipe for that special occasion when you have a lot of time for cooking and you want to make an impressive, delicious dish for a crowd. The beauty of this recipe is that all of the components can be made in advance, the dish can even be assembled the day before one's dinner and the last minute kitchen preparation time is avoided.
If there is one thing I can't stand about entertaining, it's being stuck in the kitchen slaving over the oven while my guests are all having fun without me. I often look for recipes just like this one that can be done ahead of time when I am going to entertain a group. An unstressed hostess is a good hostess!
This is such a sublime dish. The crepe "noodles" are the most delicate of creations. I suppose those no-bake lasagna noodles could be cooked up in a pinch and used as a substitute but oh, they just wouldn't have the consistency that these had. It's a great recipe for the vegetarians in the crowd too. Be sure and let this sit after taking out of the oven for at least 15 minutes before cutting into it so the cheeses congeal a little bit before serving.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 (28- to 32-oz) cans Italian tomatoes in juice, drained, reserving juice, and finely chopped
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
2 lb fresh ricotta (3 cups)
2 large eggs
1 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1/2 cup)
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 lb fresh mozzarella (I used small, fresh mozzarella balls)
Special equipment: 2 glass or ceramic baking dishes, one 13 by 9 inches and one 8 inches square
Heat oil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté onion, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and sauté, stirring, until golden, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes with juice, water, sugar, and salt and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir in basil and remove from heat.
Break up eggs with a wooden spoon in a medium bowl and stir in water until combined (don't beat). Sift in flour and salt, then stir batter until just combined. Force through a medium-mesh sieve into another bowl.
Lightly brush an 8-inch nonstick skillet with melted butter and heat over moderate heat until hot. Ladle about 1/4 cup batter into skillet, tilting and rotating skillet to coat bottom, then pour excess batter back into bowl. (If batter sets before skillet is coated, reduce heat slightly for next crêpe.) Cook until underside is just set and lightly browned, about 30 seconds, then invert crêpe onto a clean kitchen towel to cool completely. Make at least 11 more crêpes in same manner, brushing skillet with butter as needed and stacking crêpes in 3 piles.
Make filling and assemble cannelloni:
Stir together ricotta, eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, parsley, salt, and pepper.
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425°F.
Cut mozzarella lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick sticks.
Spread 2 cups sauce in larger baking dish and 1 cup in smaller one. Arrange 1 crêpe, browned side up, on a work surface, then spread about 1/4 cup filling in a line across center and top with a mozzarella strip. Fold in sides to enclose filling, leaving ends open, and transfer, seam side down, to either baking dish. Fill 11 more crêpes in same manner, arranging snugly in 1 layer in both dishes (8 in larger dish and 4 in smaller).
Cannelloni can be assembled (but not baked) 1 day ahead and chilled, covered with foil. Chill remaining sauce, covered, separately. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before baking, covered with foil. Reheat sauce, thinning slightly with water.