Sunday, February 8, 2009

You Can Wrap a Crêpe Around Anything

It was hot that day walking down the Rue Mouffetard in Paris. My friend Katy and I had already been to a couple of museums and the Latin Quarter that morning, and it was barely lunchtime. But we were in the perfect place for lunch because the Rue Mouffetard has a number of food stalls, tiny shops, and an open air market.
We were in Paris for only two days and I had a list of food I wanted to eat while I was there. Duck confit, paté, pain au chocolat, a variety of cheeses, and of course crêpes. I had read in my Lonely Planet guidebook about some crêpe stands which could be found on Rue Mouffetard. So I suggested that we should find one of them for lunch.
Katy was hesitant. I couldn't figure out why. I had been eating crêpes for years, since my 7th grade french class went to La Crêperie in Chicago for dinner. I had an escargot filled crêpe in Ft. Lauderdale of all places. My roommate Kristen's German classmate held famous crêpe breakfasts with a buffet of fillings. I took visitors in Minneapolis to the Mall of America crêpe stand. And (naturally) I finally got my own crêpe pan and started making them myself, filling them with mushrooms and bacon when I took brunch to my friends Dan and Bonnie after they had a baby, or spending a day making three dozen crêpes for a dinner party for 8, which included a choice of fillings of chicken and mushroom, or ham, spinach and cheese, as well as fruit, whipped cream, and nutella for dessert. As I said to Kristen when she took me to the famous crêpe breakfast, you can wrap a crêpe around anything.
Eating a crêpe in Paris was not optional. So I dragged Katy to the crêpe stand. The options included fillings like ham, cheese, mushrooms, and tomatoes. What was unusual about the crêpes offered was that they came with lettuce, like a deli sandwich. Katy ordered reluctantly, got her crêpe, and then was surprised to find out it was quite good. Why wouldn't it be, I asked. It turns out she had never had a savory crêpe before, crêpes were always a dessert in her mind. Until she tried it, a savory crêpe was the equivalent of having a ham and cheese cake (given the stuff I see done on Iron Chef, this may not be half bad).
Savory crêpes are the best kind. Cheesy, sauce oozing out the sides, flavorful meat and veggies on the inside of a buttery thin pancake. The batter can be made without sugar, neutral, so the crêpe can be filled with savory ingredients for the entree and sweet ingredients for dessert. Here's my foolproof recipe, easy to memorize in case you have to make dessert for a cooking challenge, and a suggestion for a savory crêpe dinner. But of course, you can wrap them around anything in your kitchen.

Spinach Stuffed Crêpes with Feta Cheese White Sauce

Crêpe Batter:
1 cup milk
1 egg
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/2 cup flour

Filling and Sauce:
6 cups packed spinach leaves
1 tablespoon water
1/2 tsp salt
dash of pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons feta cheese
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Make the crêpes: Beat together the ingredients for the crêpe batter. An immersion blender works great for this to get the flour completely incorporated into the wet ingredients. Heat a crêpe pan or non-stick frying pan on medium heat. It is ready when a drop of water sizzles on it. Add about 1/4 cup of batter to the pan and swirl to coat. Add a little more to fill in the holes. This does not have to look perfect. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes, until you can slide a spatula underneath and the crêpe holds together and is lightly browned. Flip and cook for another minute. Remove to a plate and keep covered with plastic wrap or paper towels, or keep warm in a 200 degree oven. Repeat with remainder of batter, should make about six crêpes.

Make the filling: Put spinach leaves and 1 tablespoon water in a large pot. Cover and heat over medium heat until spinach is wilted, about five minutes. Remove from heat and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of salt and a dash of pepper.

Make the sauce: Remove the spinach from the pot and reheat the pot on medium heat. Add butter and allow it to melt. When just melted, add the flour, whisking until smooth. This forms a roux, the base for many sauces. Cook roux about two minutes but do not brown. (Brown and dark brown sauces can be made by browning the butter, but in this case we're making a white sauce which would be aesthetically less pleasing if browned). Whisk in the milk slowly, adding a little at a time to maintain a smooth sauce. Sprinkle in the feta cheese and allow it to melt, then remove sauce from heat. Stir in nutmeg.

Assembly: Distribute the spinach among the crêpes and roll them up. Top with sauce. Sprinkle additional feta on top. Serves three, two crêpes each.

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