Because shelf space is precious, I own the “The Woman’s Day Crepe Cookbook” so you don’t have to.
But you might want to track down a copy. Published in 1976, the 120-page book features familiar French crepes stuffed with herbs, almonds, and chocolate, as well as blinis and blintzes; Hungarian, Swedish, and Chinese versions; and recipes for incorporating bran and soy flour, or buttermilk, beer, and eggnog. “You are always able to serve a meal or snack in style, when you know how to make crepes . . .” writes author Sylvia Schur in her introduction, before offering a short, storied history lesson. Suffice it to say that the pancake has been with us since we started cooking on stones around a hot fire, and with dozens of batter and filling variations, they remain not only comforting and convenient, but as “chic and versatile” as the author asserts.
Schur calls her Italian version frittatine. I know them from other sources as crespolini or crespelle. My mother, if memory serves, just called them crepes. She would make them for dessert, much like the Crepes Suzettes we enjoyed on rare evenings strolling the Rehoboth Beach board walk, and also to use in place of those thick, enduringly disappointing cylinders of packaged manicotti.
By any name, crepes are a fine addition to the table and to a cook’s repertoire. A small test batch might be in order, to fine tune the method and get to know your crepe pan. The end result should be practically weightless and remarkably, uniformly thin, and the taste light and balanced, neither eggy nor undercooked and insipid.
As Schur documents, the variations and uses of crepes are many. For a dessert crepe, you may want to substitute milk or even cream for water, incorporate more eggs, and also add a few tablespoons of sugar, flavorings as desired, and a little melted butter for richness. What follows is a basic recipe for two entrée servings, easily doubled if desired, for use in savory Italian dishes.
Crespelle with Ricotta and Spinach
For the Crespelle:
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cups water
- (Or 1/2 cup milk and 3/4 cup water)
- 1 cup flour
- Pinch of salt
- For the filling:
- 2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese, drained if necessary
- 8 ounces fresh spinach
- I large egg, beaten
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes
- 4 ounces grated parmesan
- 2 to 3 cups marinara sauce
- 2 to 3 tablespoons butter, divided
- Chiffonade of fresh basil, if desired
- Olive oil
First make the crepe batter. The easiest and some say best method is to simply place all ingredients in a blender and blend for just ten seconds or so until well mixed. No blender? Whisk the eggs until nicely beaten, then gradually sift in the flour, whisking until smooth. Add a pinch or two of salt and whisk in the water, or water and milk. The batter should be perhaps thinner than you might imagine, with the consistency of light cream. Cover, refrigerate, and allow to rest for 30 minutes. Afterward, give the batter a good stir. Should it have thickened too much while resting, mix in a tablespoon or two of water.
Heat an 8 to 10-inch non-stick or crepe pan over medium heat for a minute. Grease the pan lightly. Butter works well but it may discolor or burn. Wipe the pan between crepes if so. Olive oil imparts a flavor you might want for one dish but not another. A light vegetable oil serves well.
Lift the pan from the heat and add a scant quarter-cup of batter, rotating the pan quickly to allow the batter to cover the bottom in a thin layer. (Adjust the amount of batter as necessary to suit your pan.)
Return to medium heat and cook the crepe for up to one minute, until set and pale and the edge begins to release. Using a fork or knife, ease the crepe from the pan and flip it over. Cook on this side another 30 seconds or so. Remove to a plate lined with a linen towel or parchment paper and repeat with remaining batter. (Don’t stack crepes until they are cool.)
Rinse the spinach and sauté in a small amount of olive oil until just wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool. Mix the ricotta cheese with the egg. Season with salt and pepper, as desired. Mix in the spinach. Add a splash of olive oil or white wine, if desired, to slightly moisten the mixture.
Grease a baking dish well with butter, then coat the bottom very lightly with tomato sauce. (Use a dish large enough to hold the crespelle in one layer.)
To assemble, place a crepe on a plate. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture (enough to evenly divide the mixture among the crepes) in a line an inch away from the bottom edge. Top with a few cubes of mozzarella. Fold the sides toward the middle just enough to cover a bit of the mixture, then start rolling up the crespelle from the bottom to the top until you have a reasonably tight roll. Place it seam down in the prepared baking dish. Repeat with remaining crespelle.
Top the crespelle with a few dabs of butter and freshly ground pepper, then ladle on just enough tomato sauce to moisten. Top with the grated parmesan and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes. Serve immediately with more warmed tomato sauce, if desired, more grated cheese, and the chiffonade of fresh basil.