When Life Gives You Crepes (Video Blog!)

By BOB ZIMORINO

In my house the word “Manicotti” was revered. My Dad would make the pasta and my Mom the filling and sauce. It was always one of my favorite Sunday meals but not one that we got very often. I think the preparation time was a hinderance. I made it a few times in college but without the benefit of a pasta machine, I went out and bought the grocery store tube like version. They are a royal pain to stuff compared to the homemade ones but you don’t have to go through the “from scratch” process.

When I went to work in Arizona at Big Louie’s, he had manicotti on his menu. Instead of making regular homemade pasta shells, or the store bought version, he started with crepes. They are quick to make and easy to fill. You can make a pan of them in under 30 minutes.

Big Louie taught me that Manicotti was meatless. Canneloni had meat, usually chicken or veal and sometimes Italian sausage. I have seen recipes with names like “3 Cheese and Beef Manicotti”. There are a couple of things about this.

First off, I would consider this a canneloni not a manicotti. Secondly, beef is not a common ingredient in traditional Italian cooking. It is not that it doesn’t exist but chicken, pork, lamb and fish are more common in the Italian diet. They are more easily accessible than beef and thusly more affordable.

Amy, my Sous Chef/ Sweetheart and I decided for our cooking class earlier this week we would do crepes. I did Crepe Manicotti which I then converted into Crepe Canneloni. Amy did Fresh Fruit Crepes. Let’s talk about the recipes and ingredients that comprise these dishes.

First the Crepes:

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup water

1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter

You can use all water, (for a slightly richer flavor) all milk or as I do, half water, half milk. Also I prefer oil to butter but it is again your choice.

Because the dishes that I will be doing as well as the sauces have salt in them I don’t use it in my crepes. By not using salt I can add a little sugar to sweeten them up for the fresh fruit crepes which we will address in a few minutes.

In a blender whip your eggs, liquid, oil and salt if you use it. Add 2/3 of the flour and continue adding a bit at a time until you get a slightly thickened batter. If it gets too thick, like pancake batter, it won’t make good crepes. You need a good non-stick 6 inch sauté pan.

 

3 Cheese Filling

16 oz. part skim ricotta cheese

8 oz. mozzarella (shredded)

6 oz. parmesan (grated)

2 eggs (I generally use 1 egg per 8 oz. ricotta)

3/4 tsp. salt

1/3 tsp. black pepper

1/8 cup fresh parsley minced

Mix well in a large bowl and it is ready to go.

What if?

As those of you that follow my blogs know, I believe once you have the basics of a recipe down you should be asking What if?

In the case of the 3 cheese filling:

What if I want to create a 4 or 5 cheese filling. There is nothing that limits the number of cheeses that you can add to this dish. Try some romano mixed with your parmesan, how about some provolone shredded with your mozzarella. Can cheddar make it better?

What if I want to add vegetables to the filling? Great idea. My personal preferences include spinach, garlic, sundried tomatoes, sautéed onion, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, asparagus and broccoli.

What if I want to add meat? Then by all means do. It is a cannelloni at this point by the addition of that meat. I recommend Italian sausage, pancetta, prosciutto (or ham) salami, ground beef or even better, chopped up meatballs.

What if I want to add herbs? My favorites are threads of fresh basil, scallions, rosemary and thyme. Throw in some fresh parsley and sage and you could be a Simon and Garfunkel song.

The sauces are usually but not always either a béchamel (basic white sauce) or Alfredo. Some prefer tomato sauce. Some like both. A layer of Alfredo sauce and a layer of tomato. I use a lighter version of Alfredo.

Traditionally it is equal amounts of butter and heavy cream blended with a roux and parmesan cheese. Some add an egg. (I can hear your arteries clogging from here.) Because of the volume of fat involved in making it this way, it is volatile and prone to separation. Emulsified sauces (one or more substances suspended in another) break for any number of reasons from too much heat to not enough emulsification. Many cooks throw their emulsifications into a blender. The high speed rotation of the blades will often times tighten a broken sauce.

Along the way I decided for my health and the ability to still enjoy a good cream sauce that I would come up with a lower fat version. In the Alfredo video I forgot to tell you that I was using 2%.

Alfredo Sauce:

2 tblsp. butter

1 tblsp. flour or a little more if necessary. Add it to the melted butter until it becomes a paste but not too dry.

Make a roux.

Add a cup of 2% milk. Keep stirring to keep the milk from scalding. As the milk starts to boil and thusly starts to thicken, add a cup of parmesan cheese and blend until it thickens to the texture that you desire. Too thick, add a little more milk at a time until you get it to the texture you are seeking.

A little salt and pepper and you have your basic Alfredo sauce.

 

By the way: You can use this filling in a number of different dishes from lasagna to stuffed shells or even try stuffing a chicken breast with 3 cheese, spinach and Italian sausage and top it with Alfredo when it comes out of the oven.

What If I want to create a 3 cheese crepe dessert.

How about adding a tablespoon of sugar and a ½ tsp. of vanilla to your crepe batter to slightly sweeten them. Grind up some hazlenuts and add them to your batter to flavor them.

Your 3 cheese filling? How about 1 cup of ricotta, 6 oz. marscapone (an Italian cream cheese) and 1cup of cottage cheese. Make sure you drain and save the ricotta and cottage cheeses reserving the whey in a separate container.

Blend the cheeses together and add an egg, ½ tsp. of vanilla and 1/3 c. sugar. When you fill your crepes try to tuck the open ends a bit to keep your filling inside as these will be slightly runnier than the manicotti. While baking them at 350 until they are hot all the way through, I take the whey (the remaining liquid from draining the cheeses) and add some sugar and a touch of vanilla to it. It makes a great creamy topping.

Fruit Crepe

Fresh FruitCrepe.

After topping them with the sweetened whey, add fresh berries, nuts, cinnamon when it is appropriate (as in Cinnamon Apple) and they are ready to serve. You can also add fruit to the filling of the crepes for some cooked in fruity goodness.

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Read Bob’s previous blogs in this series: Chicken Picatta (VIDEO BLOG)  The Art of Sauté, Part One, The Art of Sauté, Part Two, The Art of Saute, Part Three, and Big Louie and the Dinner Crew.

Visit the “Taste It” archive or check out Bob’s recipes.

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Bob Zimorino is a full-time real estate agent with Lambros/ERA Real Estate, a retired Certified Executive Chef, a musician with the popular local band The Dirty Soles, a dad, and a grandpa. He shares the experiences from his life that helped shape his careers and hobbies. His weekly “Taste It” blog is his take on the evolution of food in hislifetime.

 

 

 

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