Food Revolution Day: Crespelle Verdi di Pesce
Having grown up and lived in four different continents with friends in different parts of the world, I’m getting used to simply keeping in touch from a distance. But I often dream of being able to just have dinner with them all, say, on a whim, and easily have everyone show up in the one place at the one time, ready to share stories and dishes. So we’re making it happen. It just happens to be that the place is online and the time is Food Revolution Day, Jamie Oliver’s day dedicated to good, healthy, real cooking and connecting people through good food. Proper food. Made from scratch.
Potluck dinners have always been one of my favourite ways to get together with friends: everyone contributes to the dinner by bringing their own dish. It’s the perfect thing for busy friends or a group of food bloggers and we happen to be both! And as my fellow food blogger friends are already well-practiced at preaching good, healthy, real cooking, we decided to make a point of choosing dishes that are not only all those things but that also ones that perhaps highlight our local, sustainable or seasonal ingredients, whether from London, Melbourne, Tuscany, Budapest, Brussels or Frankfurt.
The virtual potluck dinner goes something like this:
- Karin, a US expat in Germany, from the blog Yum and More is bringing the nibbles – a smorgasbord of dips and appetisers.
- Giulia from Juls’ Kitchen has prepared an oh-so-Tuscan panzanella salad, tweaked to include the best of Spring’s green vegetables. The idea with the thrifty and tasty panzanella is to not waste your day old bread, but give it new life in a crunchy and light dish.
- Valeria is behind the blog mylifelovefood. A Venetian currently working in London, where she is up to her neck in cheese, she’s made a Purple Kale, Sorrel and Lancashire “Caesar” Salad with brown soda bread croutons and a wonderful farmstead British cheese.
- Regula, the Belgian beauty behind Foodwise is preparing Mussels with real Belgian fries (hint, they’re fried in beef tallow! The fries, that is, not the mussels). Did you know mussels actually filter and clean the water they’re grown in?
- My dish is a take on a Tuscan favourite, Crespelle Verdi di Pesce, spinach crepes with a ragu of wild caught sea bream, finished in the oven with silky bechamel and tomato sauce.
- Zita from Zizi’s Adventures is taking care of one of the dessert (thank goodness, because with Zizi, it will always be something guilt free!): Vanilla honey rhubarb galette with fresh whipped cream.
- Sarka, the talented photographer from Cook Your Dream is making us panna cotta with rhubarb straight from her London garden (you can never have too much rhubarb).
I wish this was a real dinner!
But onto the dish: Crespelle Verdi di Pesce, or literally, green crepes filled with fish ragu.
The inspiration for the recipe comes from the ancient Florentine dish of Crespelle alla Fiorentina. Traditionally, these crepes are stuffed with a ricotta and spinach filling, folded or rolled, then covered in generous amounts of besciamella (béchamel) sauce, a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce to macchiare or ‘stain’ the dish with a bit of colour, then it’s finished in the oven with some grated cheese until hot and bubbly. Essentially, crespelle are treated much like fresh pasta – somewhere between ravioli, cannelloni and lasagne.
Also sometimes known by the affectionate name pezzole della nonna, ‘grandma’s handkerchiefs,’ because of their folded form, the earliest crespelle were no more than wafer-thin omelettes, filled with ricotta and seasonal vegetables and doused in the un-appetisingly named salsa colla (literally ‘glue sauce’), which later became known by the more elegant French name, béchamel sauce, after being perfected in the kitchens of Maria de’ Medici. The omelettes evolved with the addition of milk and flour to form the crespelle that we know now.
Here, I’ve added blanched and chopped spinach (which is usually found in the filling) to the crespelle batter to make them green. Instead of the ricotta filling, these crespelle are stepping it up a notch to be served with a filling of ragu di pesce, fish ragu. The crepes are filled with the fish filling and smothered in besciamella (this creaminess goes so well with the fish), with a nice hint of acidity not to mention colour from the tomato sauce. It’s a comforting dish that you’ll want to share with people.
The idea here is to use a fish with a wonderfully firm, tasty flesh like sea bream, known as orata in Italian. In Australia, wild caught bream is a sustainable fish. It’s also found all through the Mediterranean and is a popular sustainable fish found in regional dishes all over Italy’s coastline.
Don’t be put off by the amount of things to do in the recipe, it’s really quite fast and also very satisfying to cook this delicious dish. You can even make all the parts of this dish the day before and put it together 15 minutes before you want to serve it.
Buon appetito and don’t forget a toast to eating good, home-cooked food, prepared with love for family or friends – no matter how far away they may be!
Crespelle Verdi di Pesce
Spinach crepes with fish ragu
For the batter:
- 150 gr of flour
- 300 ml milk
- 40 gr of butter, melted
- 100 gr of spinach, blanched and chopped finely
- 2 eggs
- Pinch of salt
For the ragu:
- 600 gr firm white fish fillets, such as sea bream or other sustainable fish in your area (see this post for links to useful guides and apps)
- 500 ml of white wine
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 teaspoon of small capers (if they are preserved in salt, be sure to rinse them!)
- a handful of your favourite herbs (I used majoram out of my garden)
- salt, pepper or chilli to taste
For the besciamella sauce:
- 400 ml milk
- 50 gr of butter
- 50 gr of flour
- Salt and pepper
- A fresh grating of nutmeg
- 4 heaped tablespoons of tomato sauce made with some tomato puree (passata), a bit of garlic and basil
- Ricotta salata or Parmesan cheese, grated (optional – there are those that don’t like cheese with their seafood, but I’m going the Southern Italian way and putting just a tablespoon of cheese on mine)
- Extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
For the crespelle:
Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add the eggs, mixing well with a whisk or mixer, then the milk and finally the melted butter, incorporating gently. Season with a pinch of salt. The mixture should be fluid (it should run off a spoon like oil) and without lumps. If it is too dense, you can add a little water or some more milk; this will depend on the size of your eggs. Add the blanched and chopped spinach. If you like it looking “speckled”, leave it like this, or if you have a hand blender, this can be really handy for blending the entire batter which will chop the spinach further, giving a more even green colour to the crepes. Set aside; ideally the batter should rest for about 30 minutes before using.
Heat a non-stick, lightly greased pan (6 inches or 15cm wide is the perfect size) to medium heat and pour a ¼ cup or ladle-full of the crespelle batter into the centre of the pan, swirling to cover. When the top begins to look dry, gently flip with a spatula and allow to cook for 10 seconds or so more. They don’t need to brown; they should remain soft. Set aside until all the crespelle are done (this mixture should make 10-12 crespelle).
For the fish ragu:
Prepare the fillets by cleaning them, removing any skin if needed, and chopping into small (about 1cm) cubes. Gently heat the onion and garlic in some olive oil on low heat. When the onion becomes translucent, add the fish, chilli, salt or pepper and turn the heat to medium. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the fish is seared on all sides and appears opaque. Add the white wine to cover (you can also add some water or fish stock if you prefer not to use just wine or if you need to top up further) and allow to continue cooking until the liquid has reduced to one third. Add your fresh herbs and set aside.
For the besciamella:
Add the butter to a saucepan over low heat and when just melted, add the flour and mix until smooth. Carefully cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Slowly whisk in the milk until very smooth. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring continuously, or until thickened (the sauce should coat the back of a spoon). Remove from heat and season with salt, pepper and if desired, a little nutmeg. Set aside.
To assemble the crespelle:
Prepare an oven proof baking dish by spreading a heaped tablespoon or two of besciamella on the bottom of the dish. Place 2 tablespoons of filling on a crespella, roll up and place in the baking dish. Continue, layering the rolled crespelle on top of each other if you need to, until you run out of them. Spoon the besciamella sauce over the top of the crespelle and ‘stain’ with a few decorative splashes of tomato sauce. Sprinkle over a handful of finely grated ricotta salata if using and place in the oven for 15 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Serve immediately.