Last week a friend showed me a new French book filled with beautiful artwork and recipes inspired by 1001 Nights, which made me at once fiercely envious that I had not thought of the idea myself and then inspired to dream up my own Shahrazad-inspired dishes. The first product of this latest line of thinking: a three-course meal based entirely on pomegranates (which feature prominently in the Nights in flower and fruit form).
The main course of the meal was Galland Manicotti, a dish that symbolically includes a French surface (a Bechamel sauce and crepes rather than pasta shells) with an Eastern essence: saffron and rosewater ricotta and plenty of pomegranate-laced butter – not unlike Antoine Galland’s watershed translation of the Nights into French (or so I like to believe).
For the crepes you will need:
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2/3 cup milk and 2/3 cup water
1 cup flour
For the ricotta you will need:
1 quart of whole milk
1 tsp rosewater
A generous pinch of saffron
1 T lemon juice
A splash of red wine vinegar
For the manicotti filling you will need:
The ricotta, prepared from the ingredients above, according to instructions found here
1 cup shredded mozzarella (if you are a fan of Hanna Diab’s contribution to the 1001 Nights – see here – you may want to substitute Lebanese kashkawan cheese for some or all of this)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
A generous pinch of salt
(half of this cheese should be set aside for the final topping to the dish)
For the bechamel sauce you will need:
1 T pomegranate juice, freshly squeezed
1 T pomegranate molasses
5 T butter
4 T flour
A quart of milk
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
The very first thing you will do is to prepare your pomegranate butter. Slice the butter then melt it; mix in the pomegranate juice and molasses, and place in the fridge or freezer to cool again. Next, make your ricotta according to the instructions above, adding the saffron to the milk before it boils (see photo). In the meantime, prepare a batch of crepes.
Once your butter has reconsolidated, make a bechamel sauce according to directions here (h/t to the Food Network) but substitute your newly minted pomegranate butter.
Next, all there is to do is pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees F and assemble your manicotti in a casserole dish. The recipe is described in detail here, but essentially you’ll 1) place a generous spoonful of manicotti filling in each crepe then roll it tightly, 2) cover the bottom of the dish with a thin layer of sauce, 3) place the stuffed, rolled crepes in neat rows on top, 4) add another layer of sauce that is generous but doesn’t drown out your crepes entirely, and 5) top the whole thing off with a very generous layer of cheese.
Next all there is to do is bake for 45 minutes. If the top isn’t browning really well, no harm in turning the broiler on for the final five minutes or so of baking. The crispier that top layer, the better.