I like to keep my recipes simple: a short ingredient list based primarily on pantry staples such as eggs, milk, and flour. I’m fascinated by fresh new ingredients, so I try to weave into my recipes what is in season now: slender asparagus, bunches of succulent monk’s beard, the sweetest peas.
Fresh herbs, lemon zest, nuts, and a wise use of salt and pepper are the bright accents that highlight the flavour of a dish. A trickle of extra virgin olive oil is my fat of choice.
This is how I cook, this is how I eat, and who I am.
Even if Italian cuisine and Italian ingredients are so widespread now, I feel they have still so much to tell. It is not just about the long history and the bundle of traditions intertwined in a recipe. I might even ignore that for a second. What thrills me now is how modern the Italian approach to food is: its respect for seasonality, its balance of flavours, its frugality when it comes to fighting food waste.
As I’m writing our new cookbook, Italian cuisine is sweeping me off my feet once again.
I’m excited to welcome Spring into my kitchen, to celebrate its produce and the lightness it gives to new and old recipes, the fresh herbs finally pocking from the ground, the golden light that bathes the countryside in the late afternoon. At the market, I’m buying everything that is green, fresh and vibrant. It is finally the time to make my pea soup, scented with mint and enriched with pancetta, or the spaghetti with monk’s beard and burrata. I’m shelling fava beans, having them with pecorino, and I’m biting into the first strawberries that come from Basilicata, blending them in a purée to swirl into Livia’s yoghurt.
Even if this will be our second Easter in lockdown, I’ll honour the day cooking something festive, something that celebrates spring and the new season, something traditional, but still fresh, modern, delicious.
Crespelle agli asparagi – Asparagus and ricotta crepes
Spring is the season of fresh ricotta, abundant eggs, and slender asparagus. Combine them in an elegant, traditional dish as crespelle for an Easter main course. Let’s make together asparagus and ricotta crepes.
Commonly made with spinach and blanketed in béchamel and tomato sauce, crespelle easily please seasonality: use ricotta as the backbone of your filling, then add asparagus, artichokes, peas or just a bunch of fresh herbs along with some grated Pecorino.
Asparagus and ricotta crepes
Ingredients for the crespelle
- 3 eggs
- 3 heaping tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 pinch fine sea salt
- 300 ml (1 1/4 cups) whole milk
Ingredients for the filling
- 400 g (0.88 lb) asparagus
- 500 g (2 cups) fresh ricotta
- Zest of ½ organic lemon
- 1 fresh mint sprig
- 50 g (1/2 cups) grated Pecorino Romano, or Parmigiano Reggiano, or a mixture of both
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Ingredients for the béchamel sauce
- 25 g (1 3/4 tbsp) butter
- 25 g (1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
- 300 ml (1 1/4 cups) whole milk
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Grated nutmeg
Ingredients to finish the dish
- 8 fresh asparagus tips
- 2 tablespoon pistachios, coarsely chopped
- Fresh mint leaves
- Extra virgin olive oil
Prepare the crespelle batter.
- Whisk the eggs with flour and a pinch of salt. Remove all the flour lumps. Pour the milk in a thin stream and whisk to incorporate. Cover the bowl with cling film and put it in the fridge for about one hour.
Now prepare the filling.
- Clean the asparagus and remove the woody ends. Cook them in a pot of boiling salted water until soft.
- Remove them from the pot, pass them under cold water and set aside 8 tips.
- Blend the asparagus into a purée, then add it to a bowl with the ricotta, the coarsely chopped mint leaves, the grated Pecorino, and the zest of half an organic lemon. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Now taste it: it should have a faint smell of lemon and be savoury enough from the cheese and salt. Should it be too bland, add more grated cheese. Set aside.
Prepare the crespelle.
- Heat a 20cm / 8in large non-stick pan on medium heat. Soak a paper napkin in olive oil and brush with it the hot pan. Careful with your fingers!
- Pour the crespelle batter into the pan and swirl to cover it with a thin layer. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the crespella becomes golden brown on the edges, then flip it with a spatula flip and also cook on the other side for one more minute.
- Move the first crespella onto a plate and prepare the second one. You should get 8 crespelle. Set aside.
Now make the béchamel sauce.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan on medium heat. When melted, spoon in the flour and whisk for a few minutes until golden and toasted.
- Pour in the cold milk in a thin stream, stirring constantly to avoid lumps.
- Let on medium-low heat until thickened and season with a good pinch of salt, black pepper and grated nutmeg to give the béchamel a delicately spiced smell.
Fill the crespelle and bake.
- Now that you have all the ingredients you need - crespelle, béchamel and filling - preheat oven to 200°C / 400°F.
- Spread each pancake with the asparagus and ricotta filling: roll them up as cannelloni or fold them as a handkerchief - first in half, then in half again.
- Arrange the crespelle in a baking dish.
- Drizzle the crespelle with the béchamel sauce, then decorate each one with a cooked tip of asparagus, chopped pistachios and a drizzle of olive oil.
- Lower the oven temperature to 180°C / 350°F and bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown and bubbling on the sides.
- Eat the crespelle hot just out of the oven or, even better, warm them the day after with a dash of milk.
- Before serving, decorate each crespella with a few mint leaves and an asparagus tip, sliced in half.
Serve the asparagus and ricotta crepes with…
This is a Spring menu that screams my craving for a joyful, crowded feast, with plates crammed with scrumptious seasonal food scattered on the table, lots of chairs, a few chocolate eggs waiting on a side table, real hugs and that content tiredness that just a day spent with good food and good friends gives you.
These are the recipes I would cook.
- Fava and pecorino tartlets. Do not miss these tartlets if your ideal picnic includes a checkered tablecloth, a green meadow dotted with daisies, one or more dogs chasing each other in the background and a wicker basket from which you gleefully pull out, just like Mary Poppins, sandwiches, cookies, a refreshing lemonade, a wedge of cheese that still smells of milk and a generous handful of fava beans.
- Carciofi ritti. Artichokes should be prepared with a good dose of patience, as you are supposed to clean them, removing all the tough outer leaves, and open them by hand, like a rose. Then you stuff the artichokes with a battuto made of garlic, parsley, salt, black pepper and pancetta. Chop everything by hand on a cutting board.
- Artichoke and stale bread cake. Cook down the artichokes with good extra virgin olive oil and a clove of garlic. In the meantime, soak the stale bread until soft, then squeeze it, then mix it into the already cooked artichokes. Now comes the time of giving flavour to this cake: Parmigiano Reggiano for some saltiness, fresh herbs like parsley and mint for colour and freshness. The result after one hour of baking is beyond imagination: crisp on the outside, it keeps a moist and almost melting centre.
- Tuscan schiacciata di Pasqua. The Tuscan Easter schiacciata is not as buttery and almond sweet as the traditional colomba. It takes some time to be wholly appreciated, but when you do it, it is impossible to come back. You have to bake it every year. It is traditionally eaten with the Easter chocolate egg or soaked in a tiny glass of vinsanto, the ever-present sweet wine on our holiday tables.
- Do you know we have a subscription-based newsletter, Letters from Tuscany? If you join us, you will receive every week a new original recipe, inspired by ingredients, season or tradition. You will discover Italian classics, weeknight ideas with Italian flair, reliable dishes to add to your cooking repertoire. It’s like having our own independent publication, a way of sharing great content, recipes that we like, created to inspire you, to bring a little taste of Italy to your kitchen, for you and for your family. Subscribe here.
- Can Small-Scale Subscriptions Change Food Media for the Better? This article perfectly explains why we launched our subscription-based newsletter. By necessity and by choice, writers and other creators are leaning on platforms where devoted followers can support them directly, instead of putting all their effort into traditional distribution models like newspapers or magazines. Creators gain a sense of creative control and more appreciation for their labor. Consumers find a personalized experience with more transparency; they’re supporting individuals, not institutions. By the way, read the article as there are links to great food writing on Substack!
- Rachel Roddy’s recipe for apple and olive oil cake. So proud that my apple olive oil cake inspired Rachel Roddy’s cake, and she shared it on The Guardian a few weeks ago.