Pasticcio of crêpes, zucchini and ricotta to fill the hearts…

and stomachs of your guests, friends and family! Spring and summer offer many occasions to cook dishes that can stand alone as a light lunch, as a side dish at a barbecue, or at a potluck. Zucchini is beginning to abound once again, so here is a dish I have been tinkering for a while – a “pasticcio” of crespelle or crêpes with zucchini and ricotta. The term “pasticcio” literally meaning mess is a term attributed to many baked dishes or casseroles. This recipe is like a lasagna which is made with flat strips of pasta layered with meat, vegetables, cheese, and besciamella (white sauce). But no pasta here! The recipe calls for crêpes instead!

You can make all the components ahead of time, then pull them together and bake quickly.

Pasticcio di Crespelle con Zucchine e  Ricotta

This recipe was adapted from a recipe in La Cucina Italiana (Febbraio 2002)

First, make the crêpes following your favorite recipe or this one I have on my blog. Crepes and follow #2. Set the crêpes aside as you work on the other ingredients.

Filling

4 large zucchini (600 gr) , sliced thinly

1 large onion, cut in half then sliced thinly

½ cup grated parmigiano

1 egg 

1-2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoons chopped parsley

1-2 tablespoons  butter

2 cups ricotta (I prefer whole milk for this recipe, but lowfat works as well)

1/2 – 1 cup milk (depending on the thickness of the ricotta)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

1. In a pan, lightly sauté the garlic in a tablespoon or two of olive oil until slightly golden. Add the zucchini slices, salt and pepper, stir and cook until gently soft for about 10 minutes. Add the parsley, then set aside.

I cut the zucchini in rounds and very thinly.

2.  In another pan,  sauté the sliced onions in a tablespoon (or two depending on taste) of butter (I also added a tablespoon of olive oil).  Season with salt. Add a ¼  cup of water on the bottom of the pan and watch the onions carefully as they can burn easily. Cover if necessary and lower the heat until the onions have softened. Then cool and set aside.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the ricotta, the egg, the milk and stir until smooth. Season with salt and a little pepper. Add 1/4 cup of the grated parmigiano.

The Assembly!

  1. You can use either a 10 inch round glass pie pan or a an 8×11 rectangular pyrex dish. I have use both and either works well. Lightly grease the pan with softened butter. Form the bottom layer of the lasagna by placing one crêpe in the center and working around the dish place the other crêpes so that their edges overflow the dish.
  2. Add 1/2 of the zucchini and onion mixture and smooth it equally over the crêpes. Add the ricotta mixture enough to moisten, but not overwhelm the zucchini. Dust with a bit of grated parmigiano.
  3. Add another layer of crêpes, this time not worrying about the edges. Repeat with the remaining zucchini mixture and ricotta mixture.
  4. Top with the crêpes and the remaining ricotta mixture. You can add more grated parmigiano and a sprinkle of chopped.thyme. I also experimented with a little grated monterey jack or mozzarella. Fold over the crêpes drapped over the edge to finish. Cook in a 350 (F) or 200 (C) degree oven for 30 minutes. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before serving or serve lukewarm.

The resulting dish is light, yet satisfying. Enjoy at room temperature or even cold from the fridge!

A dish good enough for summer or any time of the year!

Fusilli Vegetariani

   Fusilli with Carrots and Zucchini

Fusilli con carote e zucchine
Fusilli con carote e zucchine

What to make quickly when guests arrive on short notice, it is blistering hot outside, and the garden is overflowing with zucchini!? This was my conundrum last night. Try a pasta that can satisfy hungry appetites and go along well side-by-side with grilled meats and vegetables. The lovely part of this recipe is that you can use “the sauce” as a condiment for pasta or use it as a base for risotto, which I prepare often. The other lovely part of the recipe is that the carrots and zucchini are shredded (just like you would for a carrot salad). This not only cooks quickly, but the fine cut of the vegetables flavors the pasta intensely. I shred them in a food processor on a medium shredding blade, but you can also grate them by hand. And zip…. the prepping is done.

Ingredients

3-4 shredded and peeled carrots (about 2 cups)

1 -3 shredded zucchini (depending on size) (again about 2 cups – a little more ok)

½ onion sliced thin (I quarter the onion first then slice)

¼ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

½ teaspoon pepper (or to taste)

a handful of fresh basil, chopped  or julienned

1 pound box of fusilli or penne (a short pasta works best)

grated parmigiano

Directions:

1. Put on a pot of water to boil for the pasta. Pour the olive oil in a wide 12 inch skillet over medium heat.Once the pan is hot, add the onions and cook until soft about five minutes. Add the carrots, stir, and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the zucchini and stir again. Salt and pepper the vegetables and cook them until they turn soft about 10 minutes. You may have to add a little water if the vegetables need more moisture. Do not dry out too much because you will then add the pasta and you will need that liquid.

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At this point, if you are making risotto (and if you are, it is advisable that you cook it in a pot instead), add the Arborio rice (about 1 ½ cups) and proceed as you normally would by adding broth and stirring and so on.

For the pasta, instead, cook it according to package instructions. As you drain it, reserve some of the water to add to the pasta if it should look dry. Add the pasta to the vegetables and stir all over high heat for a minute. Adjust the seasoning and give it a last stir. Place in a large bowl, sprinkle the top with fresh basil and a generous handful of parmigiano. Serves 5 as a first course or 8 as a side with grilled meats and a salad.

Gnocchetti Sardi con Verdure

 

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gnocchetti sardi

Gnocchetti sardi are a lovely pasta that looks like a small shell. Cooked, it holds its shape and tight texture so it melds well with strong flavors in meat sauces as well as vegetable ones. Hello! It has been almost two years since my last post, but I’m back! Last Memorial Day I made gnocchetti sardi as a side for our barbecue dinner. It works well for a crowd because it can be scooped up easily and a little bit goes a long way.

An artisanal pasta from Abruzzo, gnocchetti are traditionally made with a meat sauce. But I had a hankering for a pasta made with asparagus, which are in season, and the first tender zucchini, flowers and all, coming from my garden.  I also felt like having a tomato base, but nothing too heavy. I made a basic sauce using a jar of passata di pomodoro by Cento. I began the usual way with olive oil, a few cloves of garlic…heated it up and poured the passata into the sauce pan.

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While it cooked down, I prepared the vegetables. It is important to cut them to the same size as the pasta.

 

2-3 small zucchini with flowers if you have them

image1/2 lb of asparagus

half an onion chopped

1-2 fresh tomatoes chopped

1/2 cup of white wine, broth or water

fresh oregano (or basil will do too)

1/2 a lemon

ricotta salata

In a saucepan heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, added the onion and sauteed it for about five minutes until fragrant. Add the asparagus, give the pan a shake and saute’ briskly “a fuoco vivo” (high heat) for 2-3 minutes. Add the zucchini…and do the same. Lastly add the tomatoes. Again, a shake and a stir. Add the wine or other liquid, salt and pepper and cook for another few minutes until the vegetables are tender, but not soft and the tomatoes hold their shape. Turn the heat off if the pasta is not yet ready to be drained.

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When the pasta has cooked al dente, drain, keeping some of the cooking water. Add to the pan with the sauce, then add the vegetables, a fistful of the fresh organo. Stir quickly over high heat so all the flavors will blend, drizzle the juice of half a lemon and then turn out on a platter. Shave plenty of ricotta salata over it and serve! Excellently paired with a crisp pinot grigio.image

Crepes “Cannelloni”

Ever thought about making cannelloni with crepes? And fill them with the zucchini or other vegetables that abound at this time? I have tinkered with different crepe recipes, some contain more egg and less flour, others use more flour to achieve a pancake-like texture. I have something in between that works well with the following recipes.

But first, the crepe recipe!

Crepe Batter (pastella per crepes)

Makes 12  (more or less!) crepes

Ingredients

1 cup flour (approximately)

2 eggs

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons butter

vegetable oil or butter for brushing on the pan

salt to taste

1. Place ¾ Cup flour in the bowl, add 3-4 tablespoons milk to wet the dough. Mix well and add the eggs one at a time, alternating with more milk. Watch the consistency of the batter, if you prefer it thinner – add more milk or thicker – add a little more flour. Melt the butter and add it to the batter, then the salt. Let it sit 30 minutes to an hour. This important step allows the flour to take action with the rest of the ingredients. The batter will thicken and form little bubbles  on top.

2. To make the crepes, use an 8 inch nonstick pan. Heat it until fairly warm and grease it by brushing vegetable lightly all over the surface. Ladle 2-3 tablespoons of batter in the center of the pan and start rotating the batter quickly around the entire bottom. Once the batter begins to brown slightly around the edges, with a spatula, gently flip the crepe. Give it a few seconds, then overturn the crepe onto a paper towel. Usually the first one turns out a mess, so don’t panic! The pan needs to adjust to the right amount of heat and oil. As you get going, making more crepes and getting into a rhythm, the process gets easier.

Here’s a not so perfect demonstration on how to make the crepes!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtsvRs5aGT8

If you notice, I greased the pan with butter, but a better way is to brush a little vegetable oil on the pan. Another better technique is to pour 2-3 tablespoons of batter in the center of the pan and then rotate it.

3. I make four crepes, then layer with a paper towel, make another four, and so on. At this point you can either freeze them or store them in a plastic bag or covered pyrex dish until ready to use.

The following recipe adapted from the Italian magazine Sale e Pepe turned out delicious and provides an easy way to use the zucchini you have in the garden.

I used yellow and green zucchini in the creamy filling for these crepes.
I used yellow and green zucchini in the creamy filling for these crepes.

Crepes “Cannelloni” with Zucchini and Leeks

Ingredients

8 crepes

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon flour

4 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1-2 zucchini (depending on size), sliced in thin disks

1 leek, sliced thinly

1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated

3 thinly sliced prosciutto (optional)

salt and pepper

Method

1. Make the crepes and set aside.

2. The “besciamella” or white sauce. In a small saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter, add the flour and make a roux. Slowly add the milk and stir until smooth.  Cook the sauce for about five minutes stirring constantly as it bubbles softly.  Add salt to taste. Cool.

3. The filling. In a sauté’ pan, heat the rest of the butter and the olive oil. Add the leeks and cook briefly until slightly translucent. Add  the zucchini and cook for 7-8 minutes until tender. Add the besciamella, 3-4 tablespoons of parmigiano, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

4. Lay the crepes out on a board or counter top and distribute the filling evenly among them. Roll the crepes and place them seam side up in the buttered dish. Drizzle more melted butter over the crepes. Sprinkle with rest of the grated parmigiano.  (Optional)Sprinkle thinly sliced prosciutto for some extra flavor.

5. Bake in a  preheated 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.

“Cannelloni” Crepes with Spinach and Ricotta

Another recipe that works very well with crepes is to make a filling using spinach and ricotta. These “cannelloni” are delicious as a a “primo” (first course),  a main or side dish. And it is delicious for lunch the next day!

 

View of the crepes before adding the parmiggiano and baking.
View of the crepes before adding the parmiggiano and baking.

 

Ingredients 

1 lb. chopped frozen spinach

1/2 chopped onion

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 oz. ricotta (low fat is ok)

3/4 cup parmigiano reggiano

Method

1. Make the crepes and set aside.

2. For the filling, begin by dunking  the frozen spinach in salted boiling water, just enough to defrost it. Drain and cool. When cool enough to handle, grab a handful of the spinach and squeeze the water until a ball is formed in your hand. In a saucepan, saute’ the onion inthe butter and olive oil until slightly golden. Add the spinach and cook it briefly until the flavors blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cool.

3. In a bowl break up the ricotta with a spoon, add the spinach and more seasoning as needed. You may like to add a little nutmeg. I like to add a scant 1/2 teaspoon onion powder. Let the mixture to  sit a bit before filling the crepes.

4. Fill the crepes and place in a buttered pyrex dish seam down.

5. Optional: make a quick tomato sauce by dicing 3-4 tomatoes and sauteing them at high heat for five minutes in a saucepan with 1/2 cup chopped onion, 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add a little water  during the cooking process if the sauce gets too dry. Spoon the tomato sauce over the crepes, sprinkle with parmigiano and bake for 25-30 minutes in a 350 degree oven or until heated through and slightly browned on top.

Buon appetito!