Crespelle in brodo and pecora alla callara. Perfect little pancakes served in an unusual way...
I am out in Italy, mainly to put down fertiliser on the olive trees: essential if you want a good yield. Whilst we have been organic in the true sense of the word for at least 10 years I am in the process of being certified and to do requires the right sort of fertiliser. With two friends we spent a day spreading over 1000 kilos of this stuff (picture) and then a lot longer tending the branches that had been damaged in the bad winter, caused by the sheer weight of snow that fell in the region. They had over 2 metres in the space of a few days – this is the same snow that caused the avalanche in the mountains not far from us at the hotel in Rigopiano that you will have seen on the news.
But I also am out to enjoy being part of the community and I am always immensely honoured when I am invited into their homes. This last week I was invited out twice. Both times their generosity really touched me.
The first meal was for supper last Tuesday for what in England we call shrove Tuesday – the day before the start of Lent and the 40 days leading up to Easter. A time of fasting in the Christian world and the last opportunity to use up eggs and fats before embarking on the "Lenten" fast.
Here, of course, with strong catholic traditions, the day is celebrated in a somewhat grander style. There is the "Carnivale"; street parades with the local Children dressed up in their finery and come the evening they also respect the tradition of pancakes but not quite as we know it. Crepes, cooled, sprinkled with bits of the local pecorino, rolled up and then served in a meat broth. This is crespelle in brodo.
Of course no meal in Italy is ever that simple and it was preceded by the usual antipasto comprising meats, cheese and frittata (eggs fried with peppers) alongside two dishes of note that were really excellent: fried dumplings of cauliflower and fried cheese in batter. And then there was of course meat…………….
I was curious about whether they still respected the traditions of fasting over Lent. The answer was a bit mixed: yes we pay some respect to the tradition and try not to eat too much meat but we are not strict about it. And how true this was for the next day I was again out for dinner. The start of lent and I was served a traditional dish that would have been prepared by sheppards out in the pasture and cooked over an open fire.
Pieces of mutton on the bone cooked in a large vat along with onions and whatever local greenery they can forage nearby and cooked slowly on an open fire for a day. Tomatoes are added just before the dish is eaten. This is pecora alla callara. I was struck by just how rarely we see mutton being used in the UK and how difficult it is to even find it available. We are missing out. It takes time to cook but with patience the meat just falls off the bone. For our first course we were served squash with barlotti beans (pictures). I was surprised to discover that the arrosticini (small kebabs that the area is famous for) are also made from mutton. One of the guests at the table had just returned from visiting relatives in Australia and was appalled to be served arrosticini by his now obviously too Australian relatives made from lamb. The others at the table tutted in symphony – how could an ex-pat be so ignorant!
Crespelle in brodo
2L chicken stock (a good stock is necessary)
3 large free-range eggs
350g 00 flour (or bread flour if you can't get 00)
150g grated Parmegiano
75g grated Pecorino
Bunch of parsley, chopped
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Make the pancakes: flour, milk, eggs, small amount of Parmigiano, the nutmeg and salt all placed into a food processor until well blended. Transfer to bowl, stir in parsley. Cover and set aside.
Heat a (cast iron, if you have one) frying pan and add the butter. Add enough of the pancake batter to coat the bottom of the pan. Tilt every so often and cook over medium heat. After 30 seconds flip and cook for a few seconds more until done. Remove to a plate and repeat until you use up all the batter.
Bring the stock to a boil. Place each pancake on a flat surface and sprinkle some Pecorino and Parmigiano over the top, then them up tightly (see photo). Place a few pancakes in a bowl (maybe 3 per person). Top the bowl up with your stock and sprinkle with parsley and Pecorino.