When Cecilia Gimenez, an untrained art restorer, took it upon herself to freshen up Elias Garcia Martinez’s nineteenth-century Ecce Homo fresco, in Spain, she transformed Jesus into a weird, hairy monkey. The image has become so popular that a bakery in Madrid is now using it to decorate its crêpes.
Recipe: Crespelle with Roasted Peppers, Prosciutto Cotto, and a Red Pepper Sauce
Sometimes I feel that olive oil is what holds my life together. I smell it, I cook with it, I rub it into my hair and hands (so I guess I smell like it, too). Maybe if I had kids I would say they held my life together, but I don’t have kids. I have olive oil. Olive oil is so important to me. I easily go through a 32-ounce bottle every week, sometimes more. I spend a lot on olive oil, but it’s worth it. I especially love the flavor of estate-bottled Sicilian oils such as Ravida or Olio Verde. To me, they have a perfect mix of mellow and biting, often with a lingering taste of almonds. (And to my palate sometimes of bananas, but every time I’ve mentioned this to a producer or seller, he’s looked at me like I’m an idiot. But you know what? I know I’m right. My palate doesn’t lie.)
I’m always looking for ways to work olive oil into foods that traditionally would require butter. Many of the pastry crusts I use for savory tarts and even some sweet ones consist of just olive oil, salt, wine, and flour. It’s amazing how flaky they cook up. I make olive oil biscotti and cakes that are, to my taste, more tender and lighter than butter-based versions. I also use olive oil in crespelle, Italian crêpes. The texture is lovely, and they’re much easier to work with than butter-based crêpes. Olive oil crespelle are a perfect wrapping for seafood or Mediterranean vegetable fillings such as eggplant or the roasted peppers I’ve chosen for this recipe.
Don’t be afraid to make crespelle. They’re not that hard, especially with this olive oil batter, and once you’ve got it down, you can improvise with fillings and sauces to your heart’s content. Getting the rhythm down when you’re cooking crespelle always takes a few minutes. You need the time to regulate the pan heat and come to understand just how much batter is right to thinly cover the pan. You’ll produce a few lumpy, folded, truly messed-up-looking crespelle before you hit your stride. Don’t worry. That’s just the way it is.
Crespelle with Roasted Peppers, Prosciutto Cotto, and a Red Pepper Sauce
(Serves 4 or 5, making about 12 7-inch crespelle)
For the crespelle:
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
A generous pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for cooking
1 cup whole milk, possibly a little more
1 tablespoon grappa, cognac, or brandy
For the ricotta filling:
2 cups whole-milk ricotta
1 large egg
1 small garlic clove, minced
½ cup grated grana Padano cheese
A few big scrapings of nutmeg (about ⅛ teaspoon)
Freshly ground black pepper
About 8 thyme sprigs, leaves chopped, plus a handful of tender sprigs for garnish
Extra-virgin olive oil
6 red bell peppers, charred, peeled, seeded, and cut into thick strips
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
A big pinch of sugar
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
½ pound prosciutto cotto, very thinly sliced
½ cup grated grana Padano cheese
For the crespelle batter, put all the crespelle ingredients into the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until very smooth. The result should be the consistency of thick cream. If it’s too thick, add a little more milk. Pour the batter into a bowl, and let it sit about 45 minutes before using (this will relax the gluten a bit, so you get a nice tender crepe).
To cook the crespelle, I used a 7-inch omelet pan, but if you’ve got a proper crêpe pan, a little bigger or smaller, use that. Any small sauté pan will do the trick. With these olive oil crespelle, I never find sticking a problem, so you don’t need a non-stick pan. Put the pan over a medium flame, and let it heat up. Pour in just enough olive oil to coat the pan. Pull the pan from the heat, and ladle in a bit less than a quarter cup of batter, tilting the pan quickly in a circular movement to spread the batter. (You’ll get the hang of it. The first few usually don’t come out too well. Once the heat is regulated and you get the feel of it, trust me, you’ll find it fairly easy.) Let the crespella cook just until you notice it coloring lightly at the edge. Then shake the pan, moving the crespella away from you, and slip a spatula underneath. Give it a fast, confident flip. If it folds up a bit, just straighten it out with your fingers (these things are a lot sturdier than you’d think). Cook on the other side for about 30 seconds, and then slide onto a big plate.
Make the rest of the crespelle the same way, adding a drizzle of olive oil to the pan each time. Stack the crespelle up on top of one another (they won’t stick, I swear). If you like, you can refrigerate them until you want to assemble the dish.
Mix the ingredients for the ricotta filling together in a big bowl.
In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium flame. Add the red pepper slices, the garlic, a pinch of sugar, salt, and black pepper, and sauté for about 2 minutes, just to finish cooking the peppers and coat them with flavor.
Take about a quarter of the peppers out and place them in a food processor, including any juices that are left in the skillet. Work them into a purée. Add the chicken broth and the cream, and give it a few more pulses, just to blend everything. Season with a little salt. Transfer this sauce to a little bowl.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Lay the crespelle out on a work surface. Cover each one with a layer of the ricotta filling, leaving the ends of the crespelle uncovered. Now place a piece of prosciutto cotto and a few slices of the roasted peppers on top. Roll them up, and arrange them in a well-oiled baking dish that will hold them rather snugly (you can use two dishes, if that’s more convenient for you).
Drizzle the pepper sauce over the crespelle, and sprinkle on the grana Padano. This sauce is not meant to cover the entire dish. It just provides a little flavor boost and moisture. Bake until bubbling and lightly browned at the edges, about 15 minutes. Garnish with the thyme sprigs.
Serve hot. No need to let them rest. They’re quite firm. I like them served with a simple winter salad of mixed chicory-type lettuces, such as frisée and endive.