Tag: crespelle

Meet In Your Kitchen | Maria’s Cannelloni al Ragù

This post is part of my Meet in My Kitchen podcast series:

How did we get to where we are in life and what does food have to do with it.

“I think it’s amazing that we need to eat to survive but the way to survive is to do something that is amazing to do, that you can enjoy, that you have the privilege, the luxury, three, four times a day to do something out of necessity that you can enjoy as one of the I would say best things there is in life.” – Maria Gerace

The first time I met Maria Gerace she came to a Saturday lunch at my apartment, we started at noon and parted at 4 in the morning. Mussels, crêpes, late night pasta, and many bottles of vino – that was the perfect start of a friendship that would always circle around food, wine, and long conversations. When I go to Maria’s kitchen she makes cannelloni for me – not a couple but 20 (you can find the recipe below, Maria uses crespelle/ crêpes for the cannelloni instead of cannelloni pasta). In her kitchen, she’s my Italian mamma who always takes care that my plate (and glass) is never empty!

Maria grew up in a small town in Calabria, close to the sea, right at the tip of Italy’s boot and far away from the life she was longing for. She was raised by her grandmother who planted the seed in the young girl’s soul that a good life is always connected to good food and to people to share it with.

At a young age Maria was already used to patiently peeling pounds of fava beans in the evening in front of the TV; to making passata in the garage once a year with the entire family, each member having at strict role in the procedure – a hierarchy that only slowly alters with age. Food was never just prepared for oneself, but always shared with the whole family. The famous Sunday tomato sauce enriched with polpettine, a weekly ritual, which smell and taste is so deeply woven into her memory, was a frugal feast in her granny’s kitchen that no family member dared to miss. The young ones brought their boyfriends and girlfriends, the aunts and uncles sharing laughs and stories, a constant flow of people pulled to the kitchen of a woman who held everything and everybody together like a magnet.

Once a year the family would gather and go on a ‘pilgrimage’ to slaughter a pig at a small village close by. The blood would be collected immediately to make sanguinaccio, cooked with cocoa, sugar, and spices it was turned into a rich chocolate sauce that the kids loved. Even for the young ones it was normal that every part of an animal was used, that the whole family would always be involved in every food endeavor, and that there were recurring culinary rituals that marked the flow of the year and made it special. Traditions that everyone was longing for.

Although her curiosity and hunger for life made her leave the south of Italy to study industrial design in Milan, to travel and experience the world and widen her view, to then settle in Berlin with her husband Jan and work as an eyewear designer, Maria’s voice always mellows when she talks about her granny, about Italian food, and the sea.

The podcast episode with Maria Gerace is in English. You can listen to the Meet in My Kitchen podcast on all common podcast platforms (click here for the links); there are English and German episodes. You can find all the blog posts about these podcast episodes including my guests’ recipes here on the blog under Meet in Your Kitchen.

Listen to the podcast episode with Maria on:

Spotify / Apple / DeezerGoogle / Amazon / Podimo

On Instagram you can follow the podcast @meetinmykitchenpodcast!

Cannelloni al Ragù

by Maria Gerace

There are many steps involved in the preparation of this dish, so it makes sense to cook it in larger quantities. Cannelloni freeze very well. Follow this recipe and freeze them (in the baking dish) before (!) baking the crespelle in the oven. After defrosting them you can bake them following this recipe again. You can also prepare the ragù and the tomato sauce a day ahead. The crêpes and béchamel sauce (in case you don’t use store bought sauce) should be made the day you finish the preparation and then either bake or freeze the cannelloni.

Makes about 20 crespelle / Serves 7-10 

For the ragù (you can prepare the ragù a day ahead)

  • 100 ml / 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 500g / 17 2/3 ounces ground beef (or mixed beef/ pork)
  • 1kg / 2 1/4 pounds canned whole peeled tomatoes, crushed (or canned crushed tomatoes)
  • Fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Nutmeg, preferably freshly grated

For the crêpes 

  • 600ml / 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 225g / 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • Nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • Fine sea salt
  • Unsalted butter, to cook the crêpes

For the tomato sauce (you can prepare the tomato sauce a day ahead)

  • Extra-virgin olive oil to taste
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 500g / 17 1/2 ounces tomato passata
  • Fine sea salt

To finish the cannelloni

  • 1 liter / 4 1/4 cups thick béchamel sauce*
  • Parmesan, freshly grated
  • Nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • 500g / 17 2/3 ounces Provola cheese, cut into cubes

* Here is my recipe for béchamel sauce from my book ‘365

  • 1 liter / 4 1/4 cups whole milk 
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • Nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • Fine sea salt
  • Finely ground pepper
  • 45g / 3 tablespoons unsalted butter 
  • 45g / 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

For the ragù, simmer the white wine in a medium saucepan for 5 minutes to boil off the alcohol and reduce acidity. In a large pan, heat a splash of olive oil over medium-high heat, add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, and sauté, stirring occasionally, for about 4 minutes. Add the ground beef and a little olive oil and cook over high heat, stirring to break up the meat, for a few minutes or until the meat is browned. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, using a spatula to scrape any bits and pieces off the bottom, then add the tomatoes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg and gently simmer over medium-low heat for 1-2 hours; the ragù should be thick. Place a large colander in a deep sheet pan then pour the ragù into the colander to drain any excess liquid; for the filling, the ragù needs to be very thick and not runny. Set the sauce collected in the sheet pan aside. Let the ragù cool completely.

For the crêpes, whisk together the milk, olive oil, and eggs then add the flour and a pinch of nutmeg and salt and whisk, using a stand mixer or a whisk, until smooth and well combined. Let the batter sit for about 30 minutes.

For the tomato sauce, heat a splash of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté for a few minutes then add the passata, season with a pinch of salt, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the garlic then let the sauce cool for at least 15 minutes.

For the béchamel sauce, combine the milk, bay leaf, 1/4 teaspoon of ground or freshly grated nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of pepper in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Immediately take the pan off the heat, remove and discard the bay leaf, and set aside. To make the roux for the béchamel, melt the butter in a separate medium saucepan over medium-high heat and as soon as it’s sizzling hot, whisk in the flour. Slowly pour the hot milk mixture into the roux and whisk until smooth. Simmer on low, whisking occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until the sauce starts to thicken. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt, and pepper and set aside.

To cook the crêpes, spread out 4-6 kitchen towels on a work surface. In a 20 cm / 8“-non-stick pan or cast iron skillet heat 1/2 teaspoon of butter over medium-high heat. Pour in a ladle of the batter, tilting and turning the pan so that the batter spreads evenly and very thinly. Cook the crêpe, flipping once, for about 30-60 seconds per side or until golden. Spread the crêpe on the prepared kitchen towels and continue cooking about 19 more crêpes with the remaining batter, adding a little butter to the pan and adjusting the heat as necessary.

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F.

To finish the cannelloni, spread a little tomato sauce on the bottom of 2 large baking dishes, drizzle with a little béchamel sauce, and sprinkle with a little Parmesan. Season each crêpe with a little nutmeg and sprinkle with a little Parmesan. Place a generous spoonful of the ragù in the middle of each crêpe and top with Provola and a spoonful of béchamel sauce. Gently roll each crêpe into a tight wrap and arrange them tightly, side by side, in the prepared baking dishes. Cover the crêpes with the remaining tomato sauce, the sauce collected from the ragù, and the béchamel sauce, sprinkle with a little Parmesan, and bake for 30-40 minutes or until it’s bubbling and the top is golden brown. Let the crespelle sit for a few minutes before serving.

Crespelle with Radicchio, Potato and Thyme

Radicchio, Potato and Thyme Crespelle

It took me a while to use radicchio not only raw for salads but cooked as well. It was a late discovery, but once I tried it, I loved it, especially for the Italian cuisine! One of my favourites is linguine with radicchio, mustard butter and sautéed chicken liver. My friend Judith told me about this recipe and it became a winter pasta classic in my kitchen. Or my purple risotto with spices and thyme, the colour is beautiful and the mixture of cloves, bay leaf and red wine is so aromatic and rich. Radicchio is great, it’s so strong, its unique bitterness is so dominant that it asks for more flavours to be added to it.

A couple days ago I mentioned that we had family from LA staying with us, so our days were split between walking through the city for some sightseeing and food, either from my kitchen or from one of the great places we visited. Italian restaurants, German restaurants, department stores (we focussed on the fish section), various cafés specialized in German cake, American cake or chocolates from all over the world. We savored for days, as always!

Coming back to the purple radicchio and to one of our lunches at home, I cooked crespelle for us one day, filled with a bitter sweet stuffing of radicchio, potatoes and thyme. I used the herb to refine the pancake dough and the filling which made it come though quite strong. It added a bit more taste to the crepes which would have been to soft for this filling on their own. All the bitterness and sweetness wrapped in these thin pancakes with a creamy Béchamel sauce inside and on top made us all enjoy in silence for a short while, until our delicious Italian wraps were gone!

Here’s a springy green version of my crespelle that I wrote about in March, filled with spinach.

Radicchio, Potato and Thyme Crespelle

 

Radicchio, Potato and Thyme Crespelle

Radicchio, Potato and Thyme Crespelle

For 4 filled crespelle you need

radicchio, quartered and sliced, 300g / 10.5 ounces
potatoes, cooked, sliced and quartered, 400g / 14 ounces
fresh thyme leaves 2 tablespoons
garlic,  finely chopped, 2
red wine 60ml / 2 ounces
Balsamico vinegar 1 teaspoon
fresh parmesan, grated, 2 tablespoons
olive oil
salt and pepper

In a large pan, heat a splash of olive oil, add the garlic and radicchio and sauté for about 4 minutes or until soft on medium heat. Deglaze with the red wine, take off the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of thyme and the vinegar. Season with salt, pepper and vinegar to taste.

 

For the Béchamel sauce

milk 600ml
butter 30g / 1 ounce
plain flour 30g / 1 ounce
bay leaf 1
a pinch of nutmeg, grated
salt and pepper

In a saucepan, bring the milk with the bay leaf, nutmeg, salt and pepper to the boil.

Melt the butter and whisk in the flour, let it cook on medium heat for 1 minute. Take off the heat and slowly add the hot milk, whisk until smooth and cook for about 3-5 minutes on lowest heat until it’s thick and creamy. Discard the bay leaf and season to taste.

 

For the crespelle

milk 160ml
organic eggs 2
plain flour 130g / 4.5 ounces
salt 1/4 teaspoon
fresh thyme leaves 1 tablespoon
butter for frying

Mix the ingredients well and let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Heat some butter in a large pan and fry 4 thin crespelle, one at a time, golden on both sides.

 

To assemble

Set the oven to 200°C (top/ bottom heat).

Lay a crespelle flat on a plate, spread with 1/4 of the radicchio and potatoes and sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the Béchamel sauce on top, roll into a wrap. Continue until all four are done and put them next to each other in a baking dish. Pour the remaining sauce on top and sprinkle with parmesan. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown. Switch on the grill for the last 1-2 minutes, this makes the crespelle a little bit crisp.

Radicchio, Potato and Thyme Crespelle

 

Radicchio, Potato and Thyme Crespelle

 

Radicchio, Potato and Thyme Crespelle

 

Radicchio, Potato and Thyme Crespelle

Baked Crespelle with Spinach, Béchamel and Parmesan

Spinach Crespelle

Spinach combined with a creamy sauce, be it Béchamel, ricotta or a blue cheese sauce is a delicious filling for any kind of pasta. This combination doesn’t need a lot of additional spices besides salt, pepper and nutmeg. It’s one of those things that’s best kept simple. I love it in cannelloni or lasagna but I’m extremely fond of it in crespelle, thin Italian pancakes, wrapped around a tasty filling. You could also use a sauce Bolognese but that wouldn’t give the crespelle much space. Keep it pure and you can enjoy the eggy wrap complemented with a mild filling.

When I’m in Italy I have this meal with tomato sauce poured on top, it looks like the Italian flag, green, white and red. The man of the house asked for the green and white version, just some parmesan grated on top of the rolled crespelle before they bake in the oven for 15 minutes. They turn golden, partially crisp but the spinach and Béchamel mixture keeps it moist and juicy inside. You could also replace the spinach with chard, I do that sometimes, it’s similar to my Chard and Ricotta Lasagna.

Spinach Crespelle

Baked Crespelle with Spinach, Béchamel and Parmesan

For 4 filled crespelle you need

spinach, rinsed, without stems, 350g / 12.5 ounces
fresh parmesan, grated, 80g / 3 ounces

Cook the spinach in salted water for 1-2 minutes (the thick leaved spinach needs 2 minutes), rinse with cold water for a couple seconds and drain. Chopped roughly, season it with salt, pepper and nutmeg and set aside.

 

For the Sauce Béchamel

milk 600ml
butter, melted, 30g / 1 ounce
plain flour 30g / 1 ounce
bay leaf 1
a pinch of nutmeg, grated
salt and pepper

Mix the milk with the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Whisk the flour into the hot butter. Bring the milk to the boil and whisk into the roux. Continue mixing until smooth. Add the bay leaf and cook for around 5 minutes on low heat until the texture is thick and smooth. Take the bay leaf out and season with salt and pepper.

 

For the crespelle

milk 160ml
organic eggs 2
plain flour 130g / 4.5 ounces
salt 1/4 teaspoon
butter for frying

Mix the ingredients well and let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Heat some butter in a large pan and fry 4 thin crespelle one at a time, golden on both sides.

 

The filled crespelle

Set the oven to 200°C.

Lay a crespelle flat on a plate, spread with 1/4 of the spinach and 3 tablespoons of the Béchamel on top, roll into a wrap. Continue with the rest and put them next to each other in a baking dish. Pour the rest of the sauce on top and sprinkle with parmesan (keep some cheese for the baked crespelle, I like to put some fresh cheese on when they come out of the oven). Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown. You can also switch on the grill for 1-2 minutes, that makes it partially crisp.

Spinach Crespelle