Not until recently I started thinking of cooking as something both empowering and liberating and that comes to my mind when I think of certain passages of my childhood.
In the period between my mom’s death and my father marrying again my paternal grandmother lived with us and she did all the cooking at home. She was an amazing cook – still is at 88 – but she rarely made the dishes I liked – I know it might sound bitter and very “oh, my granny liked my brother more than me”, but it’s true: she would cook anything my brother wanted without hesitation, but never paid much attention to what I liked to eat – the perks of being the older child, I suppose.
One of the dishes she made very often was savory crepes filled with beef mince and covered with tomato sauce. See, I didn’t like beef as a kid, but I still had to eat the damn crepes. My brother, however, didn’t like tomato sauce but he didn’t have to eat the beef filled crepes – instead, he asked for his crepes to be filled with French fries (!), and granny wouldn’t say a word about it. And that is just one of the situations from those days.
Now, as a grown up, I cook what I want when I want it. My savory crepes are filled with ricotta and spinach and I don’t have to beg anyone else for it.
Ricotta and spinach manicotti
slightly adapted from the beautiful and delicious Homemade with Love: Simple Scratch Cooking from In Jennie's Kitchen
1 ½ cups (360ml) whole milk
1 large egg
½ teaspoon table salt
1 cup (140g) all purpose flour
canola oil, as needed to lightly grease the pan
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 fat garlic clove, finely chopped
200g spinach, stems removed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
450g (1 pound) ricotta cheese – I used homemade, recipe here, using 5 cups of milk
handful of fresh parsley leaves, chopped
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 ½ cups tomato sauce, recipe here
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Make the crepes: place the milk, egg, salt and flour to the bowl of a blender. Blitz until smooth, then leave at room temperature for 1 hour (or at least 30 minutes).
Heat a nonstick 20cm (8in) skillet over medium-low heat. Brush pan lightly with oil, if needed. Pour in enough batter to coat bottom of skillet then swirl it around to cover the bottom of the skillet. Cook 30-45 seconds, flip and cook for 15 more seconds or until golden. Transfer to a flat dish then repeat with remaining batter.
Filling: heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, then the spinach, and cook until wilted. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cool slightly, then chop and transfer to a colander and squeeze to remove the excess liquid. Transfer to a medium bowl, add the remaining filling ingredients and mix to incorporate. Check the seasoning.
Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F. Spread ½ cup of tomato sauce into the bottom of a 22x32cm (9x13in) casserole dish.
Lay each crepe on a flat surface and spoon an even amount of filling in a long strip down the edge of each one. Roll crepes closed, and place seam-side down into the casserole dish.
Evenly pour remaining sauce over filled crepes. Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese and bake 20 minutes, until golden and bubbly. Serve immediately.
Makes about 10 crepes – I got 9; the first two crepes I made got torn in the middle, so I got to serve 7 in total