Back in 1999, for our first Valentine's Day, I concocted a rich dish of seafood-stuffed shells in a pesto cream sauce. My darling hubby still counts that as one of the best meals I've ever prepared. Unfortunately, I never wrote down the recipe. I tried to re-create it a few years back, and I suppose it turned out ok, although nothing ever matches the first time. This year, I decided to try again, but with definite added twists. It's a bit of a pain to have to boil shells, separate them, dry them, and store them until ready to fill in my tiny counter space-challenged kitchen. Then a month or so ago, I made crepes for breakfast. They were delicate, yet strong, and I thought they would make an excellent "noodle" for a homemade cannelloni-type dish. Plus they were a snap to make and store.
In the original recipe, I mixed shrimp and crab into a bechamel sauce and added lots of cheese. The pesto went on the bottom of the baking dish, mostly so the shells wouldn't stick. And the shells were messy to fill. This time, I would put additional flavors in the seafood mixture - mushrooms and spinach. The bechamel would be a topping, and the pesto would flavor the sauce.
Presenting the fruits of my labor:
Crespelle di Mare e Pesto
1 recipe Crespelle (following)
1 recipe Besciamella (following)
1/2 large onion, chopped
3 or 4 large buttom mushrooms, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
Handful raw baby spinach
1/3 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined, chopped into large chunks
1/2 lb crabmeat (because most supermarket crabmeat, even in Maryland, doesn't seem to be from the hallowed blue crab and is pretty tasteless, I use claw meat, which has more flavor)
1/4 grated parmesan cheese
Prepare crespelle; refrigerate until ready to use.
Make filling: Saute onion and mushrooms in a bit olive oil until golden. Stir in garlic and baby spinach, cook until spinach wilts. Add shrimp and cook until no longer translucent. Salt and pepper to taste. Gently fold in crabmeat. Put seafood mixture into large bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.
About 45 minutes before you want to serve dinner, make the besciamella. Remove from heat and set aside.
Preheat oven to 425F. Remove filling and crespelle from fridge. Lightly coat the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan with a few tablespoons of warm besciamella. Place a single crespelle on a plate; put 2 heaped tablespoons of filling across one end and roll up jelly roll-style. Place filled crespelle in sauce-coated pan. Repeat with remaining crespelle to fill the baking dish with neat rows. If there is filling left over, sprinkle it over the filled crepes. If there are crepes left over, freeze the extras for a future use.
Spoon the besciamella over the crepes to cover. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup parmesan cheese and 1 tablespoon of parsley. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until well browned and bubbly.
Crespelle (Italian Crepes)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon Salt
Put flour in a large mixing bowl and slowly drizzle with milk, stirring constantly to avoid making lumps. Add eggs one at a time beating with a fork until a thin batter is formed. Add salt and let stand 20 minutes. Spray non-stick skillet or pancake griddle with cooking spray and heat pan over medium heat until hot (but not smoking). Add 3 or so tablespoons of batter to the pan, spreading it quickly with the back of a spoon or ladle to make a round about 6" in diameter. Cook until crespelle is set (top will look dry), about 30 seconds. Remove from pan and place on place. Cover with a sheet of waxed paper. Stack subsequent crespelle in the same manner. Repeat until batter is gone.
Cover plate with plastic wrap and store in fridge until ready to use.
Besciamella di Pesto (Bechamel, or White Sauce)
5 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons pesto sauce
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
Heat butter in a medium saucepan until melted. Add flour, stirring or whisking until smooth. Cook over medium heat until lightly golden, 6-7 minutes. Slowly add milk, a little at a time, whisking continuously to incorporate. Continue whisking until smooth. Bring to a boil and cook until it thickens. Remove from heat. Add pesto and parmesan whisking until smooth. Season with nutmeg; salt and pepper to taste.
Note: There will be extra besciamella left over.
You may skip the crespelle and use sheets of fresh pasta instead. Or, if you hav more space than I do, large shell pasta or manicotti tubes are also fine.
Besciamella and Crespelle adapted from recipes by Mario Batali