Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Crespelle with Chicken, Mushrooms and Mixed Greens

Buckwheat crespelle tucked into an individual dish

Crespelle or pancakes, in this part of the world, means thin, light as a feather disks that can be filled with a meager amount of marmalade or Nutella and served sweet, or laden with all sorts of savory fillings and smothered in a light white sauce with a whisper of parmesan or maybe gorgonzola, that is meant to entice one to the table. You probably won't have to ask twice. This is a post I started last month and then lost a good portion of it and have finally recreated it in time for the auspicious occasion of the Christmas/ New Year holiday marathon. It's a worthy contender and a dish you will find on many Piemontese holiday menus quite regularly like an old friend giving pasta and risotto a much needed rest.
I didn't grow up with this sort of exotic treat until we went to Europe when I was a kid and then later my sister-in-law Nancy introduced me to the jam filled ones after she married into our family. She use to make them for her families birthdays. I discovered that I really enjoyed this lighter touch when it came to pancakes for an occasional treat, as it seems to be a bit of a production making the crepes themselves. A non sick pan really helps and you will soon find that the benefits of making these treats far out weigh the effort. When I arrived in Europe in 1998, to work as a representative for a British tour company in Slovenia, I was more than a little happy to discover "palačinke" were a regular fixture on Slovenian menus. My colleague Emma and I were walking guides and she had a standing arrangement as a regular surprise ending  to our Italian lake walk, that  "palačinke" would be the highlight with tea or coffee to be the surprise ending. It never failed to delight.
 Over the years I've made crepes as I am use to calling them for home and for work when the joy of crepe making can be quickly strained from the effort of cooking for the masses. Making crespelle, as they are called by Italians, is still a treat and one that I embrace more readily now, as the numbers are much more manageable. Crespelle are usually a primo piatto, that is part of a long and grander meal, but is just as easily a grand meal in and of itself.  Most crespelle I have enjoyed here have usually been filled with some sort of poultry, mushroom and greens combination. That is my mother in laws favorite combination and I love it too. I tend to vary the greens and make combinations to suit the season and mood. It's also a way to use any bits and bobs of leftovers if you like for what I like to call "encore performances". Would have come in handy for those turkey leftovers last month. 
The filling is added to one quarter of the disc, folded in half and then half again, so that you have a nice triangular portion. They are lined up in rows in an oven pan and covered with a light besciamella or white sauce and lightly browned off in the oven before serving. This makes a great light lunch or dinner with a salad and a glass of our local Le Marie's Blanc de Lissart.  Sounds good about now....or a glass of our Carema nebbiolo is deligtful. Naturally any of your favorite lighter wines like maybe a pinot noir or grigio would be an excellent choice. I might just have to trundle off in search of a glass of wine with all these references to the various wines...Whatever you do, consider making crespelle over the holidays for some special meal, even if it isn't your main holiday's menu. Serving crespelle will elevate your meal to a degree of delightfulness, that I think you will discover, you'll be glad you didn't miss. You might even find it becomes a new family tradition.  Any extra unfilled crespelle on hand can be slathered with Nutella or jam, folded up and warmed up in a bit of melted butter, lemon juice and sugar or maybe Gran Marnier, maple syrup, or a drizzle of chocolate liqueur and anything else that strikes your fancy. I'm convinced you'll be glad you made the effort.

Crespelle with a sprinkle of paprika


Chicken, Mushroom and Spinach filled Crespelle
8 Servings


Crespelle batter Yields:  20- 8" crespelle, approximately **see cooks notes**
Filling is for 8 large crespelle
Besciamella sauce will generously cover 8 and a few more
You can either double the filling or use the extra for dessert or freeze for a later use.
One 9 x 13 pan of 8 large crespelle



Ingredients:


Crespelle/Crepe batter
4 eggs
1.7oz/3.5 T (50g) melted butter
2 c (½liter?550ml) milk
1-1/2c. / 200g flour plain (half buckwheat and half white flour is a wonderful combination)
pinch salt
I use an immersion wand to blend it all together, but a simple which will work just fine too.

Once you have it all blended together, let sit in fridge  for 20 minutes. 
You can also make it a day ahead and the batter will hold for a few days just fine.
This recipe makes about 8- 20 discs depending on the size of your pan and how thick or thin you make your disks.
If you find your batter too thick, thin out with a small amount of milk.
Butter for greasing the skillet.



Filling for 8 crespelle

1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves , minced
2 T Olive oil
2-3 turkey or chicken breast slices, or a whole chicken breast, chopped into small pieces
The size of your whole breast or slices will vary your filling amount.
1 c (100g) mushrooms, cleaned and sliced, porcino if you have them, optional, but tasty
1# (500g) spinach, fresh, cleaned
½# (250g) borage leaves, cleaned, chopped into thin slivers across the leaves 
(borage, optional you can just add more spinach or any other green that you like, swiss chard, kale, arugula, dandelion)
1 tsp fresh thyme or ½ tsp or so dry thyme  and/ or your favorite Italian herb blend
Salt and Pepper
pinch hot pepper


Besciamella/ Bechamel/ White Sauce
2 T butter
3 T flour, plain
½ lt /2 cups milk, worm milk or at least room temperature
¼ tsp nutmeg, fresh grated
100g Parmigiano, fresh grated, and a bit more for sprinkling over the top
2.5 oz (75g) gorgonzola, optional or or more depending on your taste

Fixings for crespelle making

Method:


Crespelle/Crepes 
I usually make my crepes first and set them aside to cool. You can make any of the three components in any order that you prefer, including making some things one day and some the next and assembling everything later.
Heat your 8' 0r 10" skillet till it is quite hot over a medium high burner. I find a non stick pan works best and uses less oil, but a regular pan can be used, but make sure it is very hot and be very generous buttering your pan before adding batter each time.
I use a 3 oz (85g) ladle to pour my batter into the pan. I don't use it completely full but it tends to make the crespelle size be more consistent. If you don't have that use a ladle use a pitcher or measuring cup with a spout to aid the even pouring of the batter.
Once your skillet is hot, run a stick or pice of butter over the pan to cover. Working quickly so your butter doesn't burn, swirl pan to evenly distribute the butter and then pour your batter in the center and swirl the pan with your other hand to distribute the bater evenly, moving the batter around to fill in any gaps, but try to pour in a steady stream to keep the batter even. You want a thin coating on the pan. 
Replace on the heat. You will now know if your pan is too hot or not depending on how quickly the pancake cooks. When the edges of the batter starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and looks to be set up and picking up color then loosen the disk and turn over and cook till lightly colored and pliable. 
Remove to a plate or cookie sheet to cool. 
Adjust your heat up or down, but usually after the first one the pan cools off and you have to be vigilant to keep it hot. It takes a bit of adjusting to keep the temperature even and hot. If you think your batter is too thick then add a few drops of milk to the batter and stir. Heat your pan back up, butter if needed and continue on cooking your way through the batch. I may prepare some of my other ingredients, but I don't get too far away from the pan so I can keep a close eye on the crespelle. Generally even if you go a little too far with cooking them they will soften up a bit after they cool and should be pliable. If not try cooking them less. I also stack them without anything between them as they have usually cooled enough to not stick together. If I freeze them, I will put paper between each one.


Filling:
Start with sautéing the onion and garlic with a small amount of olive oil. As the onion softens, add your poultry pieces, thyme or other favored herbs. Add mushrooms, a bit more oil or a tiny knob of butter if you like. I tink the butter is always a great flavor enhancer for mushrooms.  Season with some salt and pepper and a pinch of hot pepper. Cook till the chicken is about halfway done. Add spinach and borage, if you have some. Cook until the greens are wilted and cooked a little past al dente. Remove from heat, set and allow to cool. Once cool, taste and adjust your seasonings.
Filling Buckwheat crespelle
Besciamella/Bechamel/White cheese sauce
In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter. Whisk the flour into the melted butter. Allow to bubble and cook a few minutes till it starts to look golden, whisking occasionally. Whisk the warmed milk in a steady stream int to the butter flour mixture. Allow to come back to boil and cook a few minutes till it thickens. Whisk or stir occasionally to keep the sauce from sticking. Grate the nutmeg in and allow to cook for a few minutes, being careful not to let it stick to the bottom and burn. Remove from heat and add the two cheeses, stirring to melt. Taste, adjust the salt, pepper, nutmeg and amount of cheese to get it to a tasty topping.



Assembly
Lay your pancakes out flat if you have room to do several at a time. It helps getting your filling even. Don't fill the pancakes one on top of each other as the liquid may seep through the pile. Divide up your filling as evenly as you able and drain off most excess liquid. Be as generous as you like and filling allows. Place the filling in one quarter of the circle. Fold the disk over to make a half semi circle. Fold the empty half of the semi circle over the filled quarter to end up with a triangular filled crespelle. If I am using a metal pan I usually line it with baking paper for ease of serving and clean up. If I am serving them at the table, I use a more decorative baking dish and grease the pan with some olive oil. I line the filled crespelle up overlapping each other, four to a side of the pan with the points down and open curve up to keep the filling from falling out when serving. If you have a roomier pan you can lay them flatter and they will get a bit more sauce. I lay the empty layer side down with the filled side up, so they are easier to serve. If your filling is juicy they won't disintegrate so easily either. Cover your crespelle with warmed sauce. If you feel it is too thick to cover easily, thin out with more milk so it is easily poured. Sprinkle some grated parmesan over the top and pop into a preheated oven. If you make everything all at the ame time and everything is warm as you are putting it together it usually only takes about 20 -25 minutes to warm then thoroughly and brown the top. A little longer if your ingredients are very cold. 
Serve while hot with a wide off set spatula to remove them easily.


**Cooks notes** The crespelle recipe is easily halved, to make the filling come out even. I like to make the full batch and either use the extra for dessert in the next few days or freeze the disks between sheets of wax paper so they don't stick together in the stack. Make sure to cover them well in the refrigerator or freezer so they don't dry out. They will last in the refrigerator unfilled for 4 days, in the freezer a few months.
Pan of crespelle
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