Baked Ground Beef and Ricotta Crepe Manicotti (Crespelle)

Forget everything you think manicotti is. This crepe manicotti recipe is courteous of my mother-in-law and it’s as authentic as manicotti can get. Homemade Italian crepes (crespelle) are wrapped around a creamy, rich ricotta cheese filling and covered with a blanket of the best meaty ground beef red sauce. If you have flour and milk, you can make homemade crepes for manicotti!

Close up of two baked ricotta cheese manicotti topped with meat sauce
Baked crepe manicotti has ricotta cheese filling and a zesty meat sauce.

If you’ve been around here, you’ve heard me talk about my mother-in-law. She was a part Italian, part Bohemian. And the Italian in her made the best crepe manicotti with ricotta cheese.

Period.

One bite of this creamy ricotta cheese filled manicotti and you’ll know what I mean.

The crepes are so light and delicate but firm enough to support the zesty meat sauce we are adding and the rich ricotta cheese filling.

p.s. If you love a good combo of meat and cheese, these meatball stuffed shells need to be in your rotation!

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Is it manicotti or canneloni?

Well..it depends. Manicotti is cannelloni but cannelloni isn’t manicotti.

Technically, manicotti is an Italian-American dish. Having spent a lot of time in Italy, I don’t recall ever seeing manicotti on a menu in Italy (that’s not to say you might find one in a touristy restaurant meant to make Americans feel more at home).

Cannelloni is what this filled pasta would be called in Italy and we’d associate as manicotti here.

Other easy Italian recipes like this you’ll ♥️: vodka sauce pizza, tomato and butter pasta sauce, and my creamy traditional Alfredo sauce. Or give my tender Italian meatballs…so good!

Why make homemade crepes instead of pasta for manicotti

White oval baked pan of ricotta cheese crepe manicotti on a brown background
A pan of ricotta cheese manicotti with meat sauce is the best comfort food recipe!

Believe it or not, homemade crepes not only taste better in manicotti than pasta tubes, but they’re also easier.

Here’s why:

  • Less mess and easier to fill. Filling tubes of manicotti pasta shells isn’t easy and it’s darn messy, even with a pastry bag. Filling homemade crepes actually is simple because you just fold and roll them.
  • Special touch. There’s something perfectly lovely and special about hand-making anything, whether it be homemade pasta or these light crespelle wraps.
  • Adds a elegant, delicate texture that feels good. Talk about a conversation starter! Your guests will be enamored with the flavor and texture of your manicotti.

Best crepe making pan

The best pan for making crepe-style manicotti is an 8″ non-stick pan. I am a fan of the 8″ Calphalon nonstick omelette pan and it works great for making these crepes. You could also try a designated crepe pan if you have one but make sure it’s small or your manicotti will be pretty big.

Easy technique for making crepes for manicotti

Ok…let’s get to making some manicotti crepes.

clear mixing bowl with batter to make homemade crepes for manicotti and egg shells on a brown background.
You can use a blender or mix your crepe batter by hand.

First thing, you’ll do is mix your batter in a medium mixing bowl.

Simple, right? Especially because the batter is just 3 ingredients: eggs, milk and flour.

omelette pan being filled with a ladle of crepe batter for manicotti.
Add a gravy ladle of batter to the center of the pan.
Manicotti crepe cooking in pan
Tilt the pan to make a crepe in the bottom.
Check the edges to see if it lifts up clean before flipping.
  • Heat your pan over medium low heat. Test the temperature by flicking some water in the pan. If the water ever-so-slightly “dances” over the pan, your pan is hot enough.
  • Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup or small gravy ladle (as I did here), pour the batter into the center of the pan and working quickly tilt the pan to coat the bottom.
  • Allow the crepe to cook for about 1 minute. You want the top to be dry and see bubbles on top. The edges will also pull away.
  • Use a silicone spatula or thin offset spatula to loosen edges of the crepe, gently lifting and checking for any uncooked spots.
  • Flip and cook for 10 seconds on the other side. Remove to a large piece of parchment and proceed until all the crepes are made.

Pro Tip

Per my MIL: Do not add any grease, oil or butter to the crepe pan!

Manicotti meat sauce

Pot of Italian red sauce with meat for manicotti
Adding browned ground meat to a zesty Italian red sauce gives so much flavor!

We are tipping this classic on its head a bit and making it a little heartier by adding ground beef to my classic Italian red sauce recipe.

You could certainly leave it out if you prefer a vegetarian cheese manicotti.

Ricotta cheese filling for manicotti

white bowl with eggs and ricotta mixture for manicotti with bowls of cheese, eggs, salt and pepper.
An easy ricotta filling with egg, fresh parsley , and of course, ricotta.

To fill the manicotti, we are using the same filling we use in our meatball stuffed shell recipe and our classic lasagna.

Don’t forget to add the fresh parsley! It adds so much flavor and freshness!

How to fill and assemble manicotti

open faced manicotti crepe being filled with ricotta on a wooden board.
Spoon about 2 T of ricotta filling down the center of the crepe.
wooden board with ricotta cheese filled manicotti crepe being rolled
Fold the crepe over the ricotta filling.
wooden board with rolled and ricotta cheese stuffed manicotti
Fold it all the way over to enclose the filling.
white rectangular baking dish with a ladle of tomato sauce.
Add a big ladle of red sauce to the bottom of the baking dish.
partially filled white rectangular pan of rolled manicotti with red sauce on bottom.
Line stuffed manicotti in the pan.
Unbaked pan of manicotti with sauce and cheese on top.
Top with more sauce and torn pieces of fresh mozzarella before baking.

We’ve made our crepes, sauce and filling. Time to make manicotti!

  • Lay the crepe flat on a piece of parchment. Add about 2 Tablespoons of filling down the center of the crepe.
  • Roll the crepe from one side towards the other, encasing the filling. You can tuck one of the ends in burrito-style which can help keep the filling in.

    To assemble:
  • Pour a big ladle of the meat sauce in the bottom of a baking dish.
  • Line filled manicotti across the pan either in two columns or two rows. I also love using an oval baking dish as you see here.
  • Ladle over more sauce and top with some fresh mozzarella and/or a sprinkling of fresh grated parmesan cheese. Bake until golden and bubbly.

How to get the timing right

Click a tab below for help with timing this recipe to your needs!

  • Make the red sauce first and allow to cool. Or make a couple of days ahead and refrigerate until you’re ready to assemble.
  • Mix the ricotta filling and store for up to 3 days in the fridge.
  • Make the crepes the day you plan to serve.
  • Assemble the manicotti and bake.
  • Make a 1/2 pan of the recipe and bake in smaller baker.
  • Allow 2-3 crepes per person. One crepe recipe makes approximately 22-24 crepes so adjust accordingly.
  • You can make one day ahead but don’t top with the sauce until before baking.

Manicotti Filling Ideas

close up plate of meat and cheese crepe manicotti

Spinach and ricotta manicotti. Finely mince a handful of fresh spinach leaves and add to the ricotta before filling.

Spicy Italian sausage. A combo of spicy Italian beef and sausage with red sauce will make a zippier dish for the heat lovers.

Storage and freezer tips

Storage. Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Reheat. Place in an oven safe container and reheat at 350˚ for about 8-10 minutes until warmed through.

Freezer. I don’t recommend freezing crepe manicotti as the moisture when defrosting will affect the quality of the dish when baked but if you give it a try, drop me a note and let me know!


Made this recipe?

I’d love it if you’d share your review and leave a star rating and comment!


Close up of two baked ricotta cheese manicotti topped with meat sauce
5 from 2 votes

Baked Ground Beef and Ricotta Crepe Manicotti (Crespelle)

Forget everything you think manicotti is. This manicotti recipe is courteous of my mother-in-law and it's as authentic as manicotti can get. Homemade Italian crepes (crespelle) are wrapped around a creamy, rich spinach and ricotta cheese filling and covered with a blanket of the best red meat sauce. If you have flour and milk, you can make homemade crepes for manicotti!
Prep Time:30 minutes
Cook Time:40 minutes
if making red sauce:1 hour
Total Time:2 hours 10 minutes
Servings 6

Equipment

  • 8" omelette pan

Ingredients
 

For the crepes

For the ricotta cheese filling

For the red sauce

Instructions

For the crepes

  • Add the milk, flour and eggs together either in a bowl or blender and mix until smooth and there are no lumps.
    1 cup milk, 1 cup flour, 4 eggs
  • Heat a small 8" omelette pan over medium low heat. Spray the pan with baking spray for a little insurance if you choose, but per my mother in law, do not use any grease or butter.
  • Using a small ladle (¼ cup), spoon crepe batter into the center of the pan. Lift the pan and quickly rock and swirl the pan to fill the bottom of the pan with the batter. Allow to sit until the top of the crepe looks mostly dry.
  • With either a rubber spatula or a small offset spatula (if your pan is suitable for metal utensils), loosen the edge of the crepe and carefully lift up as you work your way under the crepe.
  • Flip the crepe and cook for five seconds or so and remove to a piece of parchment paper. Repeat with the rest of the batter. Allow crepes to cool before stacking on top of one another.

For the red sauce

  • Make a batch of homemade red sauce per the instructions below or use your favorite jarred red sauce. I love Rao's Marinara Sauce.
  • In the bottom of a large stock pot, heat a little olive oil and cook the ground meat until browned, about 8 minutes.
    Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel lined plate. Set aside.
    1 lb 80-85% ground beef
  • Place tomatoes in a blender with their juices and pulse until desired consistency reached.
    28 oz can whole peeled Italian tomatoes
  • Heat olive oil in a 4qt. saucepan (or larger if doubling) over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent and rich in color, about 5 minutes. Briefly add garlic for 30 seconds until you smell it.
    2 Tablespoons olive oil, 1 medium onion, 2 cloves garlic
  • Add red wine here, if desired. Cook for at least two minutes until wine is incorporated. See note below.
    ½ cup red wine
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and add tomato paste. Swirl around until softened and combined with onions about 2 minutes. Add spices ending with sugar and quickly combine because you don’t want the sugar to burn but to caramelize just a bit.
    3 oz tomato paste, 2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 Tablespoon sugar, crushed red pepper
  • Quickly add pureed tomatoes and simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes. Check the seasoning after 30 minutes or so. Add more salt/pepper or a little more sugar if the tomatoes are more on the acidic side.
    water
  • Taste and adjust for seasoning.
  • The sauce will thicken which is what you want. You are looking for a rich, red, sauce with kick-butt flavor. You can leave it as it and use it w/meat or as a pizza sauce.
    fresh basil

For the ricotta filling

  • Mix the ricotta ingredients together and set aside. Taste and correct for seasoning.
    15 oz container of whole milk ricotta, 3-4 oz goat cheese, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 cup parmesan cheese, 2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, half the zest of one lemon

Assemble and bake

  • Preheat the oven to 350˚with a rack placed in the middle.
    Add a 1 cup of red sauce to the bottom of a rectangular or oval baking dish.
  • Take one crepe and spread 2 Tablespoons of ricotta filling down the center of the crepe. Roll across (like an enchilada). You can also roll it like a burrito.
  • Line the manicotti up across or down the pan making two rows. Top with another ladle or two of red sauce and then tear on some fresh mozzarella if desired. Sprinkle over freshly grated parmesan cheese.
    4 slices fresh mozzarella, sprinkle fresh parmesan cheese
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes until puffed and golden. Serve with extra sauce and parmesan cheese.
Course: Main Course, Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Lori Murphy
Did you make this recipe? Tag @josieandnina or tag #josieandnina!

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