Credit where credit is due. This is my husband’s masterpiece.
Traditionally, husband’s primary contribution to our home cooked meals is one of severe critique. And postprandial cups of tea. He is the master of tea making. Husband, in fact – although skilled in the kitchen – doesn’t often cook. He prefers to style himself as a harsh, but fair – as in I would say harsh, he would say fair – critic. His role is to offer ‘constructive’ criticism. Unfortunately, usually past the point when it can actually be construed as such. For example, he will happily observe that ‘the beef is overdone’ just before I serve it. And then look at me expectantly, as if to say ‘off you go: hop in your time machine, go back half an hour and roast it just a smidgen less’. Domestics inevitably ensue. Frequently.
Recently, however, husband broke a habit off a lifetime. While I was on holiday in Australia, he let his culinary imagination loose in our kitchen, and created this show-stopping dish of stuffed crespelle. Which I – in my turn – attempted to replicate, as best I could, last Friday evening. A triumph.
Crespelle are essentially an Italian savoury pancake, traditionally served rolled – rather like cannelloni – stuffed with a creamy bechamel sauce, prosciutto and an abundance of melted cheese, then baked until piping hot. This variation predilects a lighter filling – we opted for spinach and ricotta, but the possibilities are endless – and then presents the crespelle in delightful little bundles. An absolute pleasure to eat: a delicate dish which nonetheless tastes divine.
An exceedingly chic and tasty first course at any dinner party. Moreover, the fact that it can be prepared a day in advance and then simply reheated in the oven when required allows you to enjoy your evening with friends rather than fret in the kitchen. Inspired. I am in awe. Husband, you are amazing.
You could use any filling, although simple flavours will always work best. For occasions of pure indulgence – such as the upcoming Valentine’s Day celebrations – a mere dollop of burrata, that creamy, almost buttery mozzarella, and a drizzle of white truffle oil would be pretty close to perfect. Or when in season, I do not doubt that steamed pumpkin and a dash of pecorino would also prove utterly delightful. On Friday, I opted for a classic spinach and ricotta filling. Scrumptious. With a pinch of nutmeg. I was – I will admit – dubious about the nutmeg, but husband insisted on its necessity. I believe ‘canonical’ was the exact word that he used. He was – of course – right. Canonical or otherwise, there is no doubt that the nutmeg adds an exquisite touch of sweet to balance out the sometimes bitter flavour of the spinach.
I am utterly enchanted by this dish: by its simplicity to prepare, by its enticing blend of flavours and by its utterly seductive appearance. I will certainly be making it again. Husband, I’m a big fan…
To make crespelle with a spinach and ricotta filling…
Makes roughly 14-16 crespelle. Allowing for some – inevitable – wastage with the pancakes.
For the pancakes:
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 200g plain flour
- 500ml milk
- a dollop of butter, for greasing the pan
For the filing:
- 500g packet of frozen spinach
- 270g fresh ricotta
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 50g melted butter, for cooking
- 50g melted butter, for topping
- generous amounts of parmesan, for topping
Combine the flour, eggs and milk for the pancakes and beat vigorously until you have a smooth pancake batter. Then set to one side and rest for 30 minutes or so, allowing any clumps of flour to settle. Now, get on with your filling. Cook the spinach in a pan; then combine in a bowl with the ricotta and nutmeg; mix thoroughly and set to one side until needed. Grease a small saucepan – or two, for greater efficiency – with butter, place on a medium heat and then spoon the pancake batter onto the heated surface. When the bottom side of the pancake is cooked – the best way to tell is when the top side starts to bubble slightly – flip over and cook the second side. Make all your pancakes this way and stack high on a plate. Then, take each pancake, place a dollop of the filling in its centre – approximately a heaped teaspoon, depending on how big the pancakes are – and tie in a little bundle with kitchen string. You can store these bundles for a day or so in the fridge, if you like, without compromising their flavour. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 180 degrees and place the crespelle in a a baking dish, allowing a little room between each bundle. Melt the butter and drizzle a little over the crespelle, place in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until they are warmed through. The best way to test this is, of course, to taste one. Shame. When ready to eat, remove the little parcels from the baking tray and place on a large dish, drizzle with more melted butter and sprinkle liberally with shavings of parmesan. Divine.