The weather is extraordinary, and everything is in bloom. The light, sporadic rains feed the greenery like some sort of enchantment, end everything gets more luscious by the day.
There is really not much to say, when the feeling of renewed spring breeze and the scents it carries awaken the senses after a winter that seems endless.
I collected some pictures, hoping that they could talk about these spring stories on my behalf.
My mom’s uncle is bedridden with a heart disease. My mom went to visit him so I was left in charge of lunch.
So I prepared these for my family on Sunday. ‘Crespelle’ are the Italian sisters to French crepes, and they are actually pretty much the same, but crespelle are usually savory and stuffed with seasonal vegetables and cheeses. Sure, these chickpea crespelle are quite neutral, and I am sure they would be lovely with anything sweet.
And, see those tiny, thin asparagus spears? Those are wild asparagus, and are growing everywhere in the grassy sides of the countryside streets. In Italian they are called ‘Asparagina‘, which roughly translates as ‘tiny asparagus’. They are slightly bitter and very flavorful. In this period, one can just climb any portion of grassy land and probably find a bush of Asparagina. Like we forage wild herbs, we forage for Asparagina too – when we can actually reach it, since it tends to grow in some very awkward spots. I added some of these in the mix, as well.
I have to be honest and say that these got some mixed reviews: My mom, who can’t even remotely conceive that a dish like this could be assembled without bechamel sauce, found them good but though the goat ricotta was overpowering. My dad loved them, and my brother, who usually doesn’t like ricotta much, really appreciated the end result. I personally loved them so much that I could have seriously eaten the whole tray myself. What it comes down to here is how much you like ricotta – and I LOVE ricotta. Long story short, I had just one and the rest was scarfed down quickly by the family.
I love that these are a gluten-free option for a Sunday lunch in perfect Italian style. Overall, if you go easy on the cheese, there is nothing exceptionally fat about them. Feel free to add some bechamel sauce on top for more of an old school Italian style dish (you can find the recipe in my lasagna post), but I find that they work well enough without any extra finish.
You know what my mom told us when she got back?
“You know…out of the blue, he started smiling,” she said. “He could barely talk, but he somehow managed to say: ‘Always remember…that life is beautiful. No matter how horrible you think it might be. Being alive actually feels quite amazing.'”
Asparagus & Ricotta Crespelle
(Serves 4, or makes 8 Crespelle)
For the Crespelle
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1 cup Goat’s milk*
1/4 cup water
A pinch of salt
Oil or butter for the pan
For the Asparagus Ragù
1 lb Asparagus spears (weight trimmed)
1 Small-ish onion
A small carrot
A piece of celery stick (about 4 in.)
3 Tbsp Olive oil
A half cup of white wine
A half cup of vegetable stock, plus more
For the Ricotta filling
10 Oz Creamy ricotta*
1/4 cup grated Pecorino or hard seasoned goat cheese
A good grating of nutmeg
More grated cheese
Finely chopped green onion or scallions
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
* NOTE on the dairy used in this recipe: I prefer going all-goat, not only because I like it but because it is much easier to digest. Still, as far as flavor is concerned, I think that using goat or cow’s milk makes little to no difference in the preparation of the crepes.
As for the ricotta, make sure it’s a creamy kind – I’d discourage using Sheep’s milk ricotta, as it tends to release more liquid. Goat’s milk ricotta can be a bit overpowering, so I’d mix part goat, part cow, or just use all cow. Again, it all depends on what you like best. Since it will be a dominant flavor, make sure to use the best quality you can find.
MAKE THE CRESPELLE
Add the flour to a bowl and add the milk a little by little, mixing it in with a whisk to avoid lumps. Beat the eggs on the side and, once you have incorporated the milk in the flour, whisk in the eggs. You should end up with a smooth batter. You can prepare the batter in advance and let it rest in the fridge 1 hour for better results.
Heat a nonstick pan over high heat and, once hot, lower it to medium. I used a pan that got me crespelle which were 8″ diameter. Add a little fat to the pan, enough to very lightly coat the bottom, and add a generous 1/4 cup batter. Swirl it around to fully coat the pan, and cook for about 1 minute before turning them over, very carefully, with a spatula. cook for another minute. You should get 8 Crespelle.
The crespelle can be made the day before and kept stacked in the fridge.
MAKE THE RAGU
Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery, and add to a pan (or pot) with the olive oil. Lightly stir fry for 5 minutes. In the meantime, cut the asparagus spears into thin rounds. Add to the pan along with a good pinch of salt and pepper and stir well. Add the wine and reduce it. Once almost dry, add the stock. Cook, half covered, until everything is very soft, about 30-40 minutes.
This can also be prepared a couple days ahead, or even frozen.
Divide the ragù and purèe half of it.
MAKE THE RICOTTA FILLING
Just add all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. This doesn’t need much salt and pepper. Feel free to add more cheese if you like. This can be made the day before and left to rest in the fridge.
ASSEMBLE & BAKE
Prepare an ovenproof dish or tray. Spread on each Crepe a heaping teaspoon of ricotta filling and a couple teaspoons asparagus purèe, spread them around and close in half, then in half again so that you form a fan shape. Repeat for all the crepes, and lay them evenly on the dish, possibly without overlapping them too much. Grate more cheese on top, and drizzle each with olive oil.
Broil to melt the cheese on top and get the top slightly brown.
Serve with finely chopped green onion on top.