A couple months ago my friend Tina asked me if I’d be willing to contribute some food for an international fundraiser dinner. “I would be cooking for how many people?” I asked, hesitating. Visions of slaving over a hot stove for two long days churning out food for the masses kept me from shouting YES! and jumping up and down for joy.
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” she quickly assured me. “Just make however much you want to. It’s a smorgasbord. I’ll even pay for your ingredients if you want me to. Think on it, okay?”
To be honest, that’s a very loose rendering of our exchange, most of which occurred via email, but then I did actually call her up to tell her I had decided that I would do it. “I’ll make spinach-cheese crepes,” I said.
“Ooo, that sounds lovely,” she said. “Where are they from?”
“Oh, uh....” Silly me had forgotten that this was an international dinner. Tina had probably tapped me because of my three years spent living in Nicaraguan banana patch. I thought fast. “I kind of invented them myself, so I guess they’re from my kitchen, but they’re crepes so we could say they’re French. They also have Parmesan cheese in them, so we could say they’re Italian.”
“Whatever,” she laughed. “They’ll be fine.”
Last week when it came time for me to start cracking eggs and flipping crepes, I realized that I never wrote down the recipe several years ago when I first invented the dish. I was pretty certain I could remember how to make them, but I was a little rusty on a couple points. I knew I sauteed spinach with garlic and olive oil, but should there be some onion, too? There were three cheese: Parmesan, mozzarella, and something else...maybe a sharp cheddar?
Back when I had first made my invention, I had taken the crepes to a church potluck several years ago and received a recipe request (oh, joy!), so I dutifully wrote out the recipe and dropped it in the person’s mailbox. Maybe she still had it? I called her up and left a confusing message on her answering machine, the gist of which was: Hi Julie! Several years ago I made spinach-cheese crepes for a potluck and you requested the recipe and I wrote it out and gave it to you and now I need to make them for a dinner and I don’t have the recipe and was wondering if you still had it and if so, could you please share the recipe with me? Thanks!”
I never heard back from her, which wasn’t too surprising considering the oddness of my message.
On a whim I called up my girlfriend Kris, who knows all things food and is quite accustomed to my odd food questions (What is brandy made from? Where do you buy smoked salt? How do you store garlic? What is tamari sauce?), and said, “Hey, remember those crepes I brought to your house for that dinner we had a long time ago? What cheeses did I have in them besides Parmesan and mozzarella?”
She barely even hesitated, “Feta?”
“And besides the garlic and spinach... anything else?”
“Hm, maybe some green onion? If it’s just regular onion it will need to be sauteed.”
Who needs a recipe when you have a culinary genius as a friend?
I was all set. I made the crepes, topped them with sauteed spinach, garlic, and onion, sprinkled over the three cheeses, rolled them up, laid them side-by-side in greased pans, brushed their tops with olive oil and sprinkled over a little more grated Parmesan. I passed several pans off to Tina and kept some back for us.
And then, because they are really not all that difficult to make and because I loved them so much, I made some more this week. One pan I gave away, another pan I froze (as an experiment because I’d like to know if they hold up to fluctuations in extreme temperature), and another pan I stuck in the fridge for whenever I’m in need of a quick meal.
That’s the great thing about these crepes—you can make them in advance, cover them with plastic, and then store them in the fridge for several days before baking them, and once baked, they are delicious cold, at room temperature, or reheated. You really can’t go wrong with them.
These can be a time-consuming affair since you have to make the crepes, which are actually not crepes at all, but Russian pancakes (real crepes call for butter and sugar, fewer eggs, and sometimes some water), saute the veggies, and grate the cheese, but if you make the crepes at a time when you can be in the kitchen doing other oddball tasks (or, as in my case this week, while visiting a friend), then it’s not so bad. Once the crepes are made, the rest goes quickly.
The quantities in this recipe are guesstimates, as is my habit when donning the hat of a savory cook. The important thing to remember is: You must refrain from stuffing the crepes. The goal is to lightly flavor them, so only put about two to three teaspoons of the spinach mixture on each crepe and just a bit of the cheese.
2 recipes of Russian pancakes, pre-made
1 box of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup onion, minced
salt and black pepper
3 cups Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 cup feta cheese, finely crumbled
2-3 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
Saute the garlic and onion in some olive oil. When the onion is lightly browned, add the spinach and saute for another 3-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside, or refrigerate if you’re preparing it ahead of time.
Grate the cheeses.
Lay out all the crepes on a large flat surface. Distribute the spinach mixture over the crepes, taking care to dot them evenly with small bits—no large spinach-clumpage allowed. Sprinkle each crepe with a bit of feta, just a bit, and then a sprinkling of Parmesan and then the mozzarella. Roll up each crepe and place it, seam-side down, in a greased baking dish. Brush the tops of the crepes with olive oil and shake a few grinds of Parmesan over top. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, till sizzling and slightly browned.
Serve either warm or at room temperature. (If serving them as appetizers, cut them into thirds or fourths and arrange on a plate. If they are the main course, serve them whole, like a burrito.)