Thursday, October 10, 2013

Crepes, part three (the honeymoon)

As much as I love savory crepes, I never paid much attention to sweet crepes until I got married. We travelled to Quebec for our honeymoon, a wonderfully romantic destination. Back in 1982, almost every street had at least one creperie. In the first creperie we visited, the cooking was the show. We watched the chef pour batter on a huge flat griddle where he quickly shaped it into a diaphanous 18-inch disc, topped it with an amazing assortment of fillings, then carefully enclosed the whole thing into a neat envelope that he deposited on a waiting plate. 

The dilemma was choosing just which kind of crepe from the three-page menu. Gary quickly opted for ham and swiss. I debated between traditional (that is, crepes with which I was familiar) or exotic. After much hemming and hawing, I closed my eyes and stabbed at the menu. My choice was an apple-cheddar crepe. I almost, almost decided to reconsider, but it was our honeymoon, and it was time to throw caution to the wind.

Once our order was placed, we continued to watch the chef perform his magic and waited for our crepes to hit the griddle. The aroma of the batter, augmented by the hunger that goes with a day of sightseeing, almost drove us crazy, but eventually it was our turn. When the waiter put our dinners in front of us, we hesitated because they looked too perfect to eat. The exterior was uniformly golden and crisp, extending over the edges of the huge plates. Mine was sprinkled with powdered sugar, Gary's with a sprig of parsley. After a moment's hesitation, we both dug in.

Gary's crepes were good, but mine were out of this world. The cheddar had the perfect degree of sharpness to complement the apples that were tender but still held their shape. The cheese had melted into both the crepe and the cinnamon-scented sauce. 

Most home kitchens aren't equipped with a griddle like the one we saw in Quebec, but it is possible to create an acceptable substitute with a 12-inch non-stick pan. Just make sure that the pan is hot enough that a few drops of water sprinkled on its surface dance before you begin. You might even want to consider offering the first crepe to the kitchen gods so that each one you serve will have that wonderful golden crust that I fell in love with on my honeymoon.

Here is the recipe. If you keep a few staples on hand, you can have dinner on the table in no time. I like to serve these as I make them to preserve the texture of the crepes, but you can also put them in a low (250 degree) oven until you've made enough for your family.

Apple-Cheddar Crepes
1 batch of crepe batter (allow to stand for at least 30 minutes)
1 can of apple pie filling (yep, you read that right!)
cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves to taste (I usually go heavy on the cinnamon, shave a nutmeg across a grater a couple of times, and sprinkle a teeny bit of cloves into the apples, but it is not a precise science.)
2-3 cups shredded cheddar cheese (don't skimp on the cheese)
confectioner's sugar (optional, but a nice touch)

Heat the apple pie filling and spices over low heat. Heat a 12-inch non-stick skillet until a few drops of water dance on the surface. I use the same pan for melting the butter for the crepe batter, and I put it in the oven (the oven is turned off!) while I wait so our cats don't lick it.

Pour 1/3 cup of crepe batter into the hot pan, and tilt until the batter covers the bottom of the pan. After about 30 seconds, sprinkle with about 1/2 cup grated cheese and let melt. Add about 1/2 cup of apples to one end of the crepe (the end closest to the handle to make it easier to roll). When you can see the edge of the crepe turning golden brown, pick up the pan and tilt it away from you toward a dinner plate, if serving immediately, or onto a large platter, if you are going to wait until all the crepes are complete before serving. Use a heat-proof spatula to start folding the crepe over the filling. Roll the filled crepe toward the opposite edge of the pan and deposit the crepe onto the plate. Repeat with remaining ingredients. I serve two per person. Use the spatula to neaten up the edges, then dust with confectioner's sugar, if desired.

One batch of crepe batter and one can of apple pie filling is enough to make 6 or 8 crepes. If you have leftover batter, use it to make smaller crepes. I use the same pan, only I swirl the batter into a smaller circle. I use these to put into chicken broth or to fill with other ingredients. Think Nutella and bananas. Use your imagination!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Crepes, part two

So, did you try to make crepes? I sure hope so!  The recipe should make about a dozen crepes, enough to serve four nicely for one meal, or to make a couple of different versions if you only have a couple of people in the house.

Over the past week, I made manicotti and crepes in brodo, two very different presentations. Manicotti are perhaps the lightest of all pasta dishes, mainly because of the crepes. You can fill the crepes and top them with sauce a couple of days in advance if you are serving them for a fancy dinner or if you have a crazy week coming up but still want a home-cooked meal. 

You will notice that I added spinach to the cheese mixture. I like the contrast of colors and the nod to the Italian flag, but you may leave it out or substitute another cooked green leafy vegetable. Think swiss chard or kale. Another good substitution is a generous handful of chopped parsley. I like to sneak in an extra serving of vegetables wherever I can.

Note: This recipe doubles or even triples easily, which makes it especially nice for hosting a crowd. When I'm serving this for my extended family, which can easily include 20 people, I'll make a big batch of crepe batter and cook them all the day before I assemble the trays of manicotti. 

to serve 4 as a main course or 6 as an appetizer

2 cups (one pound, a small container) ricotta cheese (I like Maggio's whole milk ricotta)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped cooked spinach, cooled
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese (I prefer pecorino romano to parmesan)
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups of your favorite tomato sauce
1 recipe of crepes (a dozen)
additional pecorino romano and mozzarella cheese (optional)

Combine the first five ingredients well. Season with salt and pepper. Put about 3/4 cups of tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Put about 1/3 cup of the cheese mixture in a row across the first crepe, about an inch from the bottom. Roll crepe and place it in the dish. To arrange them, plan on making two rows of six crepes each, so you will place the first one with the long end along the 13-inch side of the pan. Repeat with remaining crepes (five more in this row, then begin another row of 6 along the 13-inch side). Top with remaining tomato sauce. If you like, you can grate more pecorino romano cheese on top before putting the casserole dish in the oven. Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly. Remove from oven, add optional additional mozzarella cheese (enough to cover nicely), and return to oven until the cheese in melted. Wait a few minutes after removing from oven before plating to make the manicotti easier to serve. 

Next time, I'll give you a very different crepe recipe, one that I found when we were on our honeymoon in Quebec.