One surefire way to ease the Sunday night blues? Gathering friends and family together for a classic Italian supper.
“It’s the way the Italians keep the family together,” says Ron Suhanosky, author of “The Italian Table” and chef at New York’s Nonna’s Table. “We all have busy lives throughout the week and Sunday seems to be the day that everybody gets together and sits down. The table and the food are what bring everybody together.”
And while Suhanosky says that each family’s traditions call for different recipes, the basics needed to create your own spread are enough to please the pickiest of eaters.
“You should definitely have some pasta on hand, some really nice jarred tomatoes — they don’t have that flavor of the tin can, they’re fresher. And bread, definitely a really good rustic bread or focaccia, [plus] lots of antipasti stuff that you can nibble on throughout the afternoon: marinated olives, cured meats, cheeses. Dessert is typically coffee and biscotti or fresh fruit — that’s how the Italians typically do it. When I was a kid growing up, our Sunday afternoon dinners ended always with biscotti or a ricotta pie.”
Winter, Suhanosky adds, is the perfect time to dig into a Sunday feast.
“A lot of the heavier foods that are cooked around this time of year lend their hand to larger amounts. Things that are braised or roasted — they cook better. [Entrees like] roasted leg of lamb, pork loin and pork chops tend to lend their hand better to roasting whole and in larger amounts.”
And even if your kin isn’t nearby, you can still enjoy the hallmarks of the meal.
“It doesn’t have to be family,” Suhanosky says. “I mean, all us create our own families with friends, neighbors — people that just come together to the table. That’s the reason why [these suppers] happen — to bring everybody together.”
Fresh ricotta manicotti with roasted sweet 100s and winter herbs
Serves 8 to 10 (Makes 24 manicotti)
Four 1-pint containers Sweet 100 tomatoes (about 3 pounds)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
21⁄2 cups whole milk
2 large brown eggs
3 pounds whole milk ricotta
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1⁄2 cup finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1⁄2 cup finely chopped fresh sage leaves
Ingredient note: Of the large array of tomato varieties, Sweet 100s are among the most popular with home gardeners and indeed anybody who appreciates a small fruit with sweet, concentrated flavor. Sweet 100s are actually smaller than cherry tomatoes and get their name from the fact that their vines produce large clusters of up to 100 beautiful little fruit, only about 1⁄2 inch in diameter. If you’re buying Sweet 100s instead of growing them, check your local farmers' market. If you can’t find them, substitute some type of top-quality organic grape tomatoes.
Timing note: The crepes need to be made ahead of time, which could take up to 30 minutes, so take that time into consideration when preparing this dish.
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. First roast the tomatoes: Place the tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, 1 tablespoon of the salt and the pepper in a large, stainless-steel bowl. Toss thoroughly until the tomatoes are well-coated and the ingredients are well-mixed. Spread the tomatoes on a baking sheet in an even layer and roast for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
3. To make the manicotti (crepes), melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until light golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Place the flour, milk, eggs and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt in a large, stainless-steel bowl. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Slowly add the melted butter, whisking it in until completely incorporated. The batter should have a smooth consistency.
5. Heat a lightly oiled 6-inch nonstick sauté pan over medium heat, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and ladle about 3/4 cup of the batter into the pan, evenly dispersing it around the bottom of the pan. The batter should be thin enough to see the pan through it — and the crepes should turn out to be no more than about 1/16 of an inch thick. Place the pan back on the heat and cook for 1 minute. Use a spatula to turn over the crepe and cook for 1 minute on the other side. Carefully slide the crepes out of the pan onto a large plate to cool. Repeat the procedure until all the batter is used; you should have a total of 24 crepes (about 3 per person).
6. To make the filling, place the ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, red pepper flakes, rosemary, sage, the remaining 2 tablespoons salt and 1 tablespoon pepper in a large, stainless-steel bowl. Mix thoroughly with a rubber spatula.
7. To fill the crepes, lay them flat, one at a time, and spread a large kitchen spoon of filling (about 3/4 cup) toward the lower end of the crepe (the one closer to you). Fold the bottom edge up over the filling and roll the crepe away from you, gently forming and molding it into an evenly shaped cylinder. Place the crepe in a lightly oiled glass casserole. Repeat until all the crepes are filled and lined up side by side in the casserole.
8. Place the roasted tomatoes in an even layer on top of the crepes and bake uncovered for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve hot, bringing the casserole to the table.