I drove to the market in Mercatale this morning and bought clementines, pears, apples, chestnuts, cauliflower, spinach, broccoli rabe, lettuce, radicchio, fennel, onions, garlic, lemons, tomatoes, carrots, butter, flour, sugar, milk, cream, fresh ricotta cheese, mascarpone, almonds, raisins and wine. I asked Celestina who works the register and owns the store if I could mix spinach with arugula since there was only handful of spinach left.
No discussion. Non inkling of even a teeny weeny possibility.
“So what am I going to do? I asked her.
“You can,t mix spinach and arugula.”
I love Celestina for many things but especially for her unwavering certainty when it comes to cooking.
Twenzty minutes later fresh broccoli rabe leaves showed up. “Faye” she said, “Use this.”. and so rather than plain old spinach cannelloni made with handmade crespelle, stuffed with fresh spinach, mushrooms and finished with a bechamel, a red sauce and Parmesan, it will be all of those things with the wild and crazy add on of rabe.
To make the cannelloni, you have to start with crespelle, or crepes. It is a labor of love, but well worth it. You can freeze this dish, with great success, just remember to put it in the oven, frozen, and that it will take about a half an hour longer to cook than normal. For the crespelle, use one cup of milk, 3/4 cup of all purpose flour, 2 eggs, and a pinch of salt. Sift the flour before you begin, and then add gradually to the milk, whisking until there are no more lumps. Beat in the eggs one at a time, and add the salt. It is best if you can let the dough rest for a fifteen minutes, before using it. Heat a crepe pan, or pan with low sides, and brush with olive oil. When it is hot, add a spoonful of the dough, or enough to just cover the pan. Tilt the pan around, so that the dough is evenly distributed. When the edges begin to curl, pull the crespelle up with your fingers, and turn over. Cook for thirty seconds more, and set aside on a plate. Continue until all the crespelle are cooked. Use one pound of stemmed, chopped and washed spinach. Color a clove of garlic in olive oil, remove the garlic, and add the spinach. Season with a little salt, and cook just until wilted, and set aside. When the spinach is cool, squeeze in your hands, or in a clean towel, until all the water is left behind. Wipe the pan clean, and start again with the garlic and oil. Remove the garlic, and add about 6 ounces of sliced mushrooms. Season with a little salt, and do not disturb for a minute, once the mushrooms have hit the pan. Then stir occasionally, until cooked through. Clean the pan, and heat up a little olive oil for half of an onion, chopped very fine. Cook until clear. Mix all of the vegetables together, with a little fresh parsley, and thyme or marjoram, and add a pound of fresh ricotta cheese, along with a few Tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan. Color another clove of garlic, in a olive oil, and crush in a 28 oz. can of plum tomatoes. Cook for half an hour to an hour. For the white sauce, slowly melt two Tablespoons of butter in a pan with about the same amount of flour. It should come together in a light paste, not too thick, when you stir it with a whisk. Slowly add about two cups of milk (if you heat the milk first, it’s easier to incorporate), and continue to whisk, until the sauce thickens slightly. If you love garlic, you can simmer a whole clove in there, along with half a bay leaf, which gives it a nice flavor. Just don’t forget to take them out when you are done. To make the white sauce really rich and extravagant, and why not, add one third to half a cup of mascarpone cheese. Even a few tablespoons of regular (not low fat) creamed cheese will add a nice oomph, if you can’t find the mascarpone. Fill the crespelle with a few Tablespoons of the filling, starting at one end, and then rolling them up. Line them into a casserole, that has been smeared with a little red sauce, and then cover the tops with a little white sauce, then a bit more red sauce. Don’t go crazy with the sauce; you should still be able to see the ends of them. Sprinkle the top with a little more parmesan, and cook, covered in a 350 degree oven, for about a half an hour, or until heated through. Take off the cover, and let them go for five more minutes, so that they have a little color.