Crespelle is a lovely Italian word for crêpes, or thin pancakes. They can be savory or sweet and the filling options are endless. Here, I propose a classic ricotta and spinach filling, topped with tomato and a touch of cream. What’s not to like?! I make these for Shavuot, where tradition calls for dairy dishes, however, my family in London loves them so much that I end up making them regularly. I like to play with different filling ingredients to go with ricotta, such as mushrooms and thyme, butternut squash and sage, and roasted peppers – feel free to experiment once you’re familiar with the method.
This mixture will make four to six crespelle, depending on the size of your frying pan and how thin you spread the mixture. The first crespella is rarely perfect, so don’t be hard on yourself – they will taste delicious no matter how they look. A great bonus is that the recipe is easy to prepare in advance, either the entire assembled dish ready to bake, or the individual components (the ricotta and spinach mixture, the crespelle, the tomato sauce).
This recipe can be found in “Jewish Flavors of Italy” by Silvia Nacamulli – a member of the FOODISH advisory board. Nacamulli is a cook, celebrated lecturer, and writer from London of Roman origin, specializing in Jewish-Italian cuisine.
Ingredients for Savory crepes
- 3/4 oz or 1 ½ tablespoons (20 g) butter + an extra tablespoon for cooking
- 1 large egg
- 6 fl oz or 3/4 cup (180 ml) full-fat milk or semi-skimmed milk
- 3 oz or 2⁄3 cup (100 g) plain white flour
- Salt and black pepper
For the Tomato Sauce and Assembly
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil extra-virgin
- ½ onion finely chopped
- 12fl oz or 1 ½ cup (350 ml)
- 1 ¾ fl oz or 3 ½ tablespoons (50ml)
- a couple of fresh basil sprigs
For the Filling
- 7oz (200 g) rinsed
- 9 oz or 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (250 g) ricotta cheese
- 3 tablespoons parmesan cheese freshly grated
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Atlantic sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Bake and Serve
- 1 tablespoon parmesan cheese freshly grated
- basil leaves from 2-3 fresh basil sprigs
- You will also need a rectangular oven dish, about 30 x 25cm (12 x 10in).
Preparing the Crespelle Batter:
1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan or microwave, then set it aside to cool slightly. In a bowl, lightly beat the egg with a whisk, then add the milk and a pinch of salt and gradually mix in the flour, ensuring there are no lumps. Add the melted butter, mix again and cover with plastic wrap. Put the crespelle batter in the fridge while you prepare the tomato sauce and the filling.
Preparing the Tomato Sauce:
2. For the tomato sauce, warm the oil in a pan over medium-low heat, add the onion and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for 4-5 minutes then add the tomatoes, partially cover and cook for about 20 minutes over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once ready, tear 2-3 basil leaves and stir in.
3. For the filling, wilt the spinach (still damp from washing) in a medium saucepan over medium heat for 4–5 minutes, covered and stirring once or twice, then drain, cool under cold running water and squeeze the water out. Roughly chop the spinach, then mix it in a bowl with the ricotta, 3 tablespoons of the grated cheese, the nutmeg, and a generous pinch of salt and a bit of pepper. Set aside.
Making the Crespelle:
4. Melt a small knob of butter in a flat, non-stick crepe pan or frying pan about 25cm (10in) in diameter. Add half a ladle of the chilled batter. Spread it thinly over the pan, cook it over a low to medium heat for about a minute until the base is firm, then flip it over and cook the other side until both sides are light golden. Remove and set aside on a plate. Continue with the rest of the mixture and make as many crepes as the mixture allows.
5. Preheat the oven to 220°C (200°C fan/425°F/ gas mark 7). Spread each crepe with 2 generous tablespoons of the ricotta and spinach mixture to create a thin layer – not too much filling or they will be too rich! – then fold it in half, and half again, to make a triangle shape. Keep any leftover spinach and ricotta mixture to garnish the top before baking it.
6. Mix half of the double cream with a couple of tablespoons of the tomato sauce, then spread it into the oven dish. Arrange the crespelle triangles on top as one layer – they may overlap slightly, that’s fine.
7. Top each crespella with the remaining tomato sauce, the remaining double cream and dollops of any leftover ricotta and spinach mixture. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of grated cheese on top and bake in the oven for 15–18 minutes. Remove from the oven, scatter the basil sprigs on top and serve hot or warm.