A little while ago I wrote about my spinach and ricotta pancake cannelloni, and I told readers that I would soon post the recipe. I’m half living up to this promise, because crêpes aux épinards (or pancakes with spinach) is undoubtably a very similar dish.
I have decided to post this version, however, because I’m amused by the thought that I might have unknowingly been drawn to the idea of making vegetarian cannelloni with pancakes, in place of the more common pasta tubes, because it was one of my grandmother’s favourite dishes.
When I went to Nairn to visit my aunt, she gave me my grandma Winifred’s handwritten recipe journal. I have since been reading it as if it contained some kind of holy text. It appears from the book that my grandma was particularly fond of crêpes aux épinards, because the recipe is mentioned more than once. I have speculated before about food sparking off latent, even subconscious memory, and I like to think that this could be an example of that.
These photos show the way I made my spinach and ricotta cannelloni by instinct, before I read my grandmother’s book. The only real differences between the two dishes, are the use of ricotta cheese in place of bechamel sauce in the pancake filling, and my decision to cook the pancakes on a layer of tomato and basil sauce. I even felt mysteriously drawn to adding grated nutmeg as a seasoning, as per my grandma’s instruction.
The recipe below is my grandmother’s version of crêpes aux épinards. To make it a more substantial meal you could do as I did, and transform it into a cannelloni-type dish by laying the pancake rolls on top of a layer of ragu or vegetarian pasta sauce. Or, you can do as Winifred did, and serve it as is as an inexpensive but refined lunch dish in summer. Either way, it is a delicious meal, if a little time-consuming to produce.
- For the pancakes:
- 130g plain flour
- Pinch salt
- 2 eggs
- 250ml milk
- 50ml water
- 1 tbsp melted butter
- 450g fresh spinach
- For the bechamel
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1/2 pint milk
- Grated nutmeg
- Salt and black pepper
- Grated hard cheese to top
- Make your pancakes by sifting flour and salt into a large bowl.
- Whisk in the egg followed by the milk and water, a little at a time, until you have a smooth batter the consistency of thin cream. To finish, whisk in a little melted butter.
- Get an omelette pan nice and hot over a high heat and brush on a tiny bit of clarified butter or oil.
- Pour a serving spoon of batter into the pan and swirl round to coat thinly.
- Flip pancake after 1-2 minutes and cook until translucent and speckled with brown on both sides.
- Repeat until mixture is used up.
- To cook spinach, steam for 4-5 minutes until soft and then blanch in freezing cold water.
- Squeeze spinach tightly to remove all excess water and dry with clean kitchen paper.
- Chop roughly and set to one side while you make the bechamel sauce.
- In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter and stir in the flour to form a paste.
- Dribble in a little milk at a time, stirring constantly until you have a smooth sauce the consistency of thick cream.
- Cook for a further two minutes to stabilise the sauce, stirring constantly and adding a dribble more milk if it starts to become too thick.
- Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and cover with cling film while you compile your dish.
- Mix a few spoonfuls of bechamel with the cooked spinach until it is pliable but not wet, season well with salt and pepper.
- Put a spoonful of spinach mixture in each pancake and roll up tightly.
- Arrange in an oven-proof dish.
- Repeat until all the pancakes and spinach are used up. (If you run out of spinach, try filling a few pancakes with grated cheese or crumbled feta to bulk it up.)
- Top with the remaining bechamel and grated hard cheese.
- Bake in the oven (200c) for 20 mins until golden on top.
- Serve with green salad and hunks of good bread.
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