today is May 24, 2022

Jane Baxter's spinach and ricotta crespelle. Show caption Jane Baxter's spinach and ricotta crespelle. Photograph: Aaron Graubart/The Guardian. Food styling: Esther Clark. Prop styling: Alexander Breeze. Food stylist assistant: Clare Cole.

An adaptable duo of Italian family recipes: a traditional lamb-mince bolognese and a dish of vegan ricotta and spinach pancake rolls known as crespelle

Bolognese sauce, or ragù, features in some shape or form in most UK households, and is usually made with beef mince. In Italy, however, it’s traditionally made with a mixture of pork and veal, though in the south lamb is much more popular, especially in spring. Crespelle, meanwhile, are a lighter alternative to cannelloni. All the various components can be used in other dishes – the tomato sauce with pasta, the bechamel in a gratin, the filling in a toasted sandwich and the pancakes as a pud, say – but combined as they are here, they make a very satisfying vegetarian dish that the whole family can enjoy.

Spinach and ricotta crespelle (pictured above)

There are a few stages involved here, but they’re all pretty straightforward and can be made ahead of time, leaving you just to assemble and bake the dish when the time comes.

Prep 10 min Cook 1 hr 40 min Serves 4-6

For the pancakes (to make 12) 100g plain flour 2 eggs 300ml milk 1 tbsp oil 1 pinch salt Butter, for frying

For the tomato sauce 2 tbsp olive oil 5 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced 1 pinch dried chilli flakes 1 x 400g tin plum tomatoes 1 tsp sugar Salt and pepper

For the bechamel 50g butter 1 tbsp olive oil 50g flour 500ml whole milk Grated nutmeg, to taste 50g vegetarian parmesan, grated

For the filling 500g spinach, washed 1 tbsp olive oil 25g butter 1 tbsp marjoram leaves 1 garlic clove, peeled and grated 250g ricotta 1 egg yolk 75g vegetarian parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve

First make the pancakes. Whisk the wet ingredients into the flour to make a thin batter, add a pinch of salt and leave to rest for at least five minutes.

Melt a little butter in a nonstick pan over a medium heat, then pour in a ladle of the batter, tilting the pan so the base is covered evenly. Cook for a couple of minutes, until the bottom of the pancake is set, then flip and cook on the other side for a couple of minutes more. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining batter.

Now for the sauce. Put the oil in a small pan on a low heat, add the garlic and dried chilli and cook until the garlic slices are opaque (and before they go brown). Add the tomatoes and sugar, season generously, then turn up the heat to medium and bring to a simmer. Turn down the heat, leave to cook slowly for at least 30 minutes, then blitz smooth and leave to cool.

Next, the bechamel. Put the butter and olive oil in a pan on a low heat. Once melted, stir in the flour, beating it in with a wooden spoon until the mix is smooth, then cook gently, stirring, for five minutes.

While the roux is cooking, heat up the milk in another pan – don’t let it boil – then stir into the first pan a ladle at a time and beating after each addition, until you have a smooth, thick sauce. Season well, add nutmeg to taste, simmer for five minutes, then stir in the cheese.

Now for the pancake filling. Heat the oil in a large pan, tip in the spinach and cook, stirring, over a high heat, until wilted. Season, tip into a colander set over a bowl. Once the spinach has cooled, squeeze out any excess moisture, then roughly chop.

Melt the butter in a large pan, add the marjoram and garlic, and cook for a minute. Tip in the chopped spinach, braise for a few minutes in the flavoured butter, then tip into a bowl and leave to cool. Once cooled, mix in the ricotta, egg yolk, vegetarian hard cheese and seasonings.

Finally, the assembly and cooking. Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Butter a large ovenproof dish in which 12 rolled-up pancakes will fit snugly. Spread half the bechamel in the bottom of the dish and top with half the tomato sauce. Divide the filling between the pancakes, then roll up each one. Arrange the pancakes on top of the tomato sauce, then cover, first with the remaining sauce, and then the bechamel. Sprinkle over the extra cheese, and bake for 15 minutes, until the top is golden.

  • UK readers: click to buy these ingredients from Ocado

Pasta with lamb and pea ragu

Italians enrich meat ragu not just with wine, but with milk, too, which turns the sauce creamy. If you like, add some frozen broad beans or jarred artichokes four or five minutes before the end of the cooking time.

Prep 15 min Cook 1 hr Serves 6

2 tbsp olive oil 500g lamb mince Salt and black pepper 1 onion, peeled and finely diced 1 small carrot, trimmed and finely diced 1 stick celery, finely diced 1 leek, trimmed and finely diced 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed 1 pinch dried chilli flakes 1 tsp ground fennel seeds 1 anchovy fillet, drained 1 splash white wine 200g tomato passata 250ml chicken stock 250ml full-fat milk 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar 150g frozen peas Grated parmesan 500g casarecce, fusilli or other dried pasta

Put the oil in a large, deep-sided frying pan over a high heat, then brown the mince. Season well, then transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Tip the finely diced vegetables into the oily pan, cook on a medium heat, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, then stir in the garlic, chilli, fennel and anchovy, and cook for another minute.

Return the lamb to the pan, mix with the veg, then turn up the heat, add the wine and cook until it’s all but evaporated. Add the passata, bring to a simmer and cook for five minutes. Pour in the stock and simmer for another 10 minutes, until the sauce is quite thick; while it’s cooking, break up any lumps of meat so the sauce is smooth.

Add the milk, simmer for 15 or so minutes, until the sauce is thick and creamy, then stir in the vinegar and peas, season again to taste (be generous) and cook for three minutes. The sauce is now ready.

Cook your chosen pasta in lots of salted boiling water according to the packet instructions, until al dente, then drain, reserving a small cup of the cooking water.

Fold the sauce through the pasta, add grated parmesan to taste and season again; if the pasta seems a little dry, add some of the reserved pasta water. Serve with extra grated cheese on the side.

  • UK readers: click to buy these ingredients from Ocado

• Jane Baxter is chef/co-owner of Wild Artichokes in Kingsbridge, Devon












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