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I think I’ve written before that the first thing I cooked when I had access to a kitchen after Katrina was crepes. I still have no idea why that’s what I decided to cook, but there you are.
Conventional wisdom is that crepes are difficult to make, or at least that the first few you cook will not turn out well. I think they’re like anything else, in that you get better the more you make them. My guess is that crepes got a reputation for being difficult before non-stick pans were widely available.
I can’t remember where I saw the recipe, but I had a vague memory of a dish that combined manicotti with lasagna – where crepes took the place of pasta. It seems like a complicated thing, but it’s really not if you’re comfortable making crepes, and if you’re not, this may be the recipe that gets you in the habit.
In Italian, crepes are “crespelle,” and they’re most commonly seen in manicotti. The basic recipe is the same as the French: all-purpose flour, egg and water or milk. I’ve made crepes without a recipe, just adding liquid to a base of beaten eggs and flour, but the basic ratio is 2 large eggs, 1 cup of flour and 1 and ½ cups liquid. You can also add some fat in the form of oil or melted butter and cut down on the liquid. Add a pinch of salt whether you’re making sweet or savory crepes, and add ¼ cup of sugar if the former.
Mix the ingredients thoroughly and if you want, let the batter rest for an hour. It should be pretty thin – about like heavy cream. Resting isn’t a bad idea, but it’s not necessary, particularly if you’re going to use the crepes in a baked pasta dish.
To cook the crepes, heat a non-stick saute pan over medium heat and then brush it with melted butter or oil. Add ¼ cup of crepe batter and twist and rotate the pan to cover the bottom. Cook each crepe for about 4 minutes on the first side, then flip and cook another 3-4 minutes on the other side. Ideally you want a little browning on the crepes, but it’s only necessary to cook them through, and that doesn’t take long.
The rest of the recipe is up to you. You need a sauce and some sort of filling, and the latter should probably include cheese. When I cooked it last week I used some Italian sausage and grated mozzarella for the filling and a quick-cooked tomato sauce for the… sauce.
Just like lasagna, you start with a little sauce on the bottom of the baking dish, then layer the crepes and the filling, adding a little sauce to each layer as you go. At the end, fold the ends of the crepes over the top and finish with more sauce and cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or so and you’re done.
I know that this sounds like a time-consuming affair, and it is to some extent, but it was one of the best things I’ve cooked in a long time and I tend to have a very high opinion about what I cook. I will also admit that when I was thinking about making the dish, I considered using store-bought crepes. I might have done it, too, but I couldn’t find any that weren’t exorbitantly expensive. If you can find less expensive pre-made crepes or you have more disposable income than I do, I would not look askance at you if you made that substitution.