Crespelle Spinaci (Spinach Crepes)
Manicotti without tears
"Manicotti without Tears". When you saw that title, did you read "tairs" meaning rips/cuts/splits, or "teers"as in weeping?
Have you ever had the pleasure of eating manicotti at an Italian restaurant? Broad tubes of pasta stuffed with meats and/or cheeses, baked in a sublime sauce--tomato, cream, or a bit of both. It's a wonderfully indulgent food. Certainly not an every day meal, not a choice for a low-fat low-carb diet, but oh so satisfying.
But how do you stuff a tender tube of pasta without having it split open? I've never been able to do it. The tears have reduced me to tears. However in northern Italy, where my sister lives, there is weep-free, heavenly alternative. Instead of pasta they use crepes, or in Italian "crespelle".
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 1/4 cup milk, divided
- 4 large eggs, divided
- 1 cup + 6 tablespoons all purpose flour, divided
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted (plus more for the pan)
- 1 pound fresh spinach, washed well, stems removed
- 1/2 pound ricotta cheese
- 3/4 cup parmesan, finely grated
- 4 tablespoons butter
- freshly ground black pepper
- grated nutmeg
- 1/2 to 1 cup marinara or spaghetti sauce, optional
- For the crepes: Place the water, 1/2 cup milk, 2 eggs, 1 cup flour, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 2 tablespoons melted butter in a blender or food processor and blend well. Cover and refrigerate several hours. Thin the batter with water if necessary; it should be the consistency of very heavy cream.
- Heat a crepe pan over medium-high heat. (I don't own a crepe pan--any small to medium non-stick saute pan will do. The one I use is 10 inches wide). Brush the pan with melted butter and let it warm about a minute. Add a scant 1/4 cup batter and swirl it around in the hot pan. The crepe should be thin and set up almost immediately. Cook about 1 minute, then flip it over (you should be able to pick up one edge with your fingers). Cook the second side about 10 seconds, then turn the crepe out onto a towel. Brush the pan lightly with butter and make another crepe. As the crepes cool, you may stack them. There should be enough batter for 8 crepes. They can be held at room temperature for several hours before filling them; do not refrigerate.
- For the filling: Steam the spinach over simmering water until wilted. Remove from heat and set aside. When cool enough to handle, squeeze to remove the excess moisture. Place in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, the remaining 2 eggs, 3/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. black pepper, and a pinch of ground nutmeg. Mix well.
- Coat a large baking dish with cooking spray.
- Evenly divide the filling among the 8 crepes. You have two choices for shaping--you may either roll them up or fold them into quarters. Place your filled, shaped crespelle in the prepared baking dish.
- For the sauce: In a medium saucepan over medium heat melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Whisk in the 6 tablespoons of flour until smooth; cook about 3 minutes but don't allow to brown. Slowly whisk in the 1 3/4 cups milk and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens, about 2 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, to eliminate the raw flour taste, about another 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt (about 1 tsp.); add a pinch of nutmeg.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Pour the sauce over the crespelle. Bake the crespelle, uncovered, about 20 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned on top. Garnish each serving with a little grated Parmesan and a spoonful of your favorite red spaghetti sauce. This step is optional, but the contrast of tangy red sauce against the creamy filling of the crespelle will make the flavors really pop.
© 2013 Linda Lum