OMLET DI SPINACI (Pancakes ricotta and spinach)

 

Next time I visit my sister-in-law in Adelaide (South Australia) I am to cook for her, what my mother called Omelet di spinaci. Apparently these made a big impression on my Australian sister-in-law, and it was one of the first things that my mother cooked for her when she was first invited to Sunday lunch.

Omlet (corruption of omlette (French) are really just crepes filled with ricotta and spinach (sautéed in butter) and similar to the stuffing used for canelloni.  The crepes are also called crispelle in other parts of Italy.

Sunday lunch was always a big event in my parents’ house – this was the time guests were invited to eat with us and my mother went out of her way to make something special.

Omelet di spinaci were in vogue when we left Trieste (northern Italy) and for a while they were just about all my mother made for any guests in Australia. Most of the time the crepes were dressed with a strong sugo made of good quality minced veal and beef. Often she teamed the omlet with a vitello arrosto (roast veal) – except that this was never baked in the oven, but was braised slowly in a saucepan on the stove top and the brown jus was used as the condiment for the stuffed crepes. The meat was always eaten as the secondo.

When we first come to Australia, we were not able to buy what is now known as “English” spinach – this  became available commercially much later in time.  Most of the time what was called spinach were beets (blede in Italian) and these were usually found at quality greengrocers.

Silverbeet was more common and found in Australian people’s gardens, but to be able to use the green for the stuffing, the leaf had to be stripped entirely from the white stalk, which seemed to be such a waste of a good vegetable (right).

Sometimes we cooked the stalks separately and covered them with a béchamel sauce and parmesan cheese. We baked these in the oven and pretended they were cardi (cardoons, related to the artichoke). Many people refer to all three varieties as ‘spinach’, hence the photos.

And, of course, during the years when I was growing up in my family home, it was my job to help in the kitchen which is why I have been asked by my sister-in-law to reproduce this dish next time I visit her in Adelaide. Omelet di spinaci are eaten in northern Italy.
INGREDIENTS AND PROCESSES
Crepes

3 eggs, slightly beaten, 3/4 cup plain flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, 2 cups milk.
Mix the batter and leave to rest for at least 1 hour.
Fry crepes in a little butter. Make them thin/add more milk if necessary.
The crepes can be left for about 2 hours, and filled later if necessary.

Filling

English spinach, (I use 2 bunches for 6 people), 500g ricotta (drained),
50 g grated parmesan, ½tsp. nutmeg, salt. Some people put 1 egg in the
filling. Could be useful if you think that the mixture may be too sloppy.

Place the spinach in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook, covered, squeeze out any excess moisture from the spinach. Coarsely chop and sauté the spinach in butter. Add nutmeg, and over medium heat stir occasionally for a few minutes until the spinach is flavoured. Transfer to a bowl and let cool for about 10mins. Add the drained ricotta and parmesan and combine (egg is optional). Season with salt and pepper.

Sugo

1/4  cup extra virgin olive oil
400g beef mince or cut into small chunks (fat trimmed)
400gveal mince or cut into small chunks (fat trimmed)
1 onion, sliced finely
700g passata or crushed tomatoes
basil, oregano,
salt and pepper

Heat oil in a large saucepan and soften the onion. Cook the meat until lightly browned.
Add passata/tomatoes, herbs and salt and pepper. Simmer, stirring now and again for about an hour medium-low heat. Remove the lid half way through cooking and evaporate some of the liquid.
To assemble
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Place 1 crepe on a clean work surface.
Fill with spinach mixture down the centre of the crepe. Roll up firmly to enclose filling.
Place the crepes side by side in a large ovenproof baking dish.
Spoon the sugo over the crepes and sprinkle with more grated parmesan.
Bake in oven for 20 minutes or until the cheese melts and crepes are heated through.

3 thoughts on “OMLET DI SPINACI (Pancakes ricotta and spinach)”

  1. I love crepes and luckily have my Great Aunt’s recipe, handed down for generations in my family. We called them blintzes but I’ve noticed that most recipes are similar. Sunday lunch must have been a wonderful tradition for you. We only made our crepes with cheese. Your spinach version sounds great. One trick I learned to make beautiful thin ones, which you might already know, is to pour the batter into the center of the pan and swirl the pan to coat it rather than pouring more batter in. Thanks for the intriguing recipe and lovely post.

  2. Thanks Gail,
    yes, that trick with the batter is very important to remember.

    Also I find that with crepes it is very difficult to estimate the amount of four to use to achieve the correct consistency. So much of cooking is intuition-the Italians use the expression ‘cucinare all’occhio'( cooking with the eyes).
    Marisa

  3. I noted the picture of the spinach you called “English” spinach is exactly what we here in Philadelphia call Chinese spinach. It is lovely because the stalks are so tender you only have to cut off the very tip where it came from the earth. It is also much less bitter than American spinach and needs so much less washing to get the sand out. I went looking for Chinese Spinach after taking a course on osteoporosis where I learned that Chinese spinach has an extraordinary amount of calcium compared to any other vegetable. Looks like a grat recipe.

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