See the crespelle. See Ken photograph the crespelle. See the crespelle run away from Ken. Run, crespelle, run. See the crespelle run all the way to Brooklyn, where Jody cooks a Thanksgiving dinner for Ken and Jody’s son Oliver and 12 of his closest friends who had to work on the actual holiday. See Ken stuck in Boston. See Ken get his revenge. Ken makes a batch of crespelle with Lemon-Rosemary Ricotta and he doesn’t share.
Revenge, says Ken, is sweet.
As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, crespelle is Italian for crêpes. Cooks of a certain age might recall a time in this country when crêpes were ubiquitous. There were Julia’s famous crêpe recipes, including the Gâteau de Crêpes à la Florentine, which she translates in Mastering the Art of French Cooking as a “Mound of French Pancakes Filled with Cream Cheese, Spinach, and Mushrooms,” essentially a stack of crêpes layered with all the aforementioned ingredients in an ovenproof dish, covered with, as Julia puts it, “a good sauce,” (read, Mornay) and then baked. Yikes! Now you know what fueled the sales of all those Jane Fonda workout videos.
Diners of the 1980’s will also remember the Magic Pan restaurant chain with its revolving carousel of inverted crêpe pans and dirndl-skirted waitresses (just the pans were on the carousel, not the waitresses). Fancy stuff. For Main Street America, just getting its culinary sea legs in the 1970’s, crêpes were an easy introduction to “European gourmet” food. People who wouldn’t have dreamed of putting a cuisse de grenouille into their mouths (let alone sea urchin roe) happily chowed down on those skinny French pancakes. Despite Julia’s translation, crêpes really aren’t pancakes. Pancakes are thick, burly American things; crêpes are slender, delicate creations from the country where women don’t get fat–not that anybody knew that in 1982.
And then crêpes disappeared (rumor: they ran off with the fish poacher). I think they were too strongly identified as “beginner” food–and who wants to be thought of as a novice? It was as though everybody shifted into the culinary passing lane and zoomed away in truffle oil-propelled jetpacks.
But they’ve never really disappeared from casual cuisine in Europe, or in tiny themed cafes here, where you can still find them rolled about creamed crabmeat or chicken or spinach or mushrooms and Gruyère, all good stuff, the base for a light (reasonably) savory meal, or as here, a component in an unfussy dessert.
There isn’t much difference between French crêpes and Italian crespelle. They’re eaten the same way in both countries, that is, filled and baked, often topped with cheese or sauce; treated as sweet or savory; or simply folded and sauced. I’ve heard that crespelle are sometimes also used in soup, in place of pasta, but I can’t really speak to that since I’ve never personally encountered it. In Puglia, a land of mostly simply desserts, crespelle with sweetened ricotta are an after-dinner tradition. Jody and I sampled a version of this week’s recipe one night, and tweaked her own take on it with rosemary–along with a sprinkle of powdered sugar so it didn’t look so stark on the plate. Nothing la-dee-da, but really good. Just ask all those Brooklyn hipsters who scarfed down a batch for Thanksgiving dessert. Enjoy. Ken
Crespelle with Lemon-Rosemary Ricotta
Makes 24 1-ounce crespelle
(8 generous dessert portions)
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup whole milk
- ¼ cup water
- 5 large eggs
- 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup confectioner’s sugar
- 2 cups firm ricotta
- 2 tablespoons honey
- ¼ teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 lemon, washed
- Set aside 1 tablespoon melted butter for cooking the crespelli. Use the rest in the next step.
- Combine the milk, water, eggs, flour, ¼ teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar together in a blender. Blend until smooth, adding the butter in a steady stream. Pour through a strainer to remove any lumps. Let sit 2 hours. It should be the consistency of heavy cream. Add more water if necessary.
- Brush a small non-stick sauté pan or crêpe pan with butter and heat over medium heat. Tilt the pan toward you. Ladle an ounce of batter into the pan at the highest part of the cooking surface. Tip and tilt the pan to completely coat the cooking surface. If the batter doesn’t flow easily, add a little more water to it. Put the pan back on the burner. Cook about 30 seconds then lift one edge of the crêpe with a spatula and use your fingers to flip it (you can see this in the photo). Let it cook about 10 seconds on the second side, then slide it on to to a nearby plate. Continue cooking the crêpes and stacking one on top of the other until the batter is gone.
- Mix the ricotta with the remaining salt, ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar, and the honey and then push through a strainer to remove any lumps. Add the rosemary to the strained ricotta. Grate the zest of the lemon into the ricotta, then squeeze 2 tablespoons of lemon juice into the mix. Stir everything together, taste, then add more lemon juice if you want more lemon flavor or a bit more tartness.
- Spread 1 tablespoon of ricotta over each crêpe. Fold into quarters. Arrange on a platter. Serve at room temperature. Just before serving, sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.
Jody Notes: This simple dessert was served to us in Puglia. I didn’t watch the chef make them and I didn’t get a recipe so I had to work out my own version. Rosemary seemed like a nice compliment to the lemon. The batter I make has a high ratio of eggs to flour, resulting in crespelli with a very tender texture and a rich flavor. I always thought that the recipe I’ve relied on for years was an adaptation from Julia Child, but in preparing for this post I went through her cookbooks and couldn’t find one with this many eggs. In fact, hers have only 3 eggs (for the same amount of flour, I use 5), less butter and more liquid. But James Peterson came through in Glorious French Food with an even higher ratio than mine. If you have a favorite recipe, go ahead and use it; otherwise, following me down the middle path is a good place to start.
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