I've mentioned before that I am a full-fledged cookbook junkie. Many sit on my shelves collecting dust, but every now and then an exception comes along that gets to keep a coveted spot on my bedside table. This is the case for Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros, which has lived on my Amazon wishlist (along with about 300 other cookbooks) for what seems like years now, but it wasn't until I found it at a New England antique shop last month for the whopping total of six dollars that I finally made it my own.
Apples for Jam is one of those cookbooks full of real recipes for real life. These are the recipes Kiros feeds her daughters, the recipes she remembers from her youth, and the recipes she makes from memory. It's the same recipes I look forward to feeding my own family one day, the basics we so often forget in this age of more and better. I know I sound a little sales-ish, but trust me when I say it's rare when I want to cook an entire book. This is definitely one of the few.
So many cookbooks published these days overshoot their mark, aiming only to create the next big food trend or spin off of what already exists. These days it's all about teaching home cooks to "think like a chef," but they forget that, while preaching obscure, expensive ingredients and hours of labor-intensive prep, that oftentimes—most of the time—simple really is best.
Most cooks, myself included, really just crave cookbooks that inspire us to get in the kitchen and make something. Yes, I do like creating big messes and taking on elaborate multi-day cooking projects, but then there's every other night of the week. This is the book for those nights. A book that inspires the one I hope to write someday. A classic. Because timeless never goes out of style...
Here's the first recipe I cooked from Apples to Jam—I'm sure one of many more to come. And I apologize for my lack of photos, but for once I took the time to just dig in.
This a lovely vegetarian Italian dinner; Walt gave it two enthusiastic thumbs up. I loved using crepes in a savory dish—usually I only think of them as a breakfast treat. I have made a few adaptations to this recipe, but mainly just tweaks in the technique.
It's not a hard dish by any means, but it does take a little bit of time and forethought. And be prepared to do a lot of dishes. I think good quality jarred tomato sauce, lasagna noodles, and frozen spinach could make fine substitutes for an easier weeknight version.
Source: Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Yields: 6 servings
For the crepes:
3 large eggs
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
3-1/2 tablespoons butter, melted, plus additional for pan
Kosher salt, to taste
For the tomato sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 (14 ounce can) peeled tomatoes with basil, preferably San Marzano
1 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt, to taste
For the spinach and ricotta filling:
6 cups spinach leaves, rinsed and shaken dry
2 cups good-quality ricotta
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
For the béchamel sauce:
4-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk, warmed
Freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
For the crepes: Combine eggs, flour, milk, butter, and a couple generous pinches of salt in a blender and pulse until a smooth batter is formed. Set aside for about 30 minutes or so.
Grease a small non-stick skillet with a little butter or cooking spray and place over medium heat until warm. Pour batter (a little less than 1/4 cup) into the skillet and swirl around so it forms a thin, even layer in the pan. Cook until edges are set and the crepe is pale yellow, flip and continue to cook for another 30 seconds or so. Set crepe aside and continue with the remaining batter. (There is enough batter to yield about 12 crepes, give or take depending on the size of the pan.)
For the tomato sauce: Heat the olive oil and garlic in a saucepan over medium heat until sizzling. Slowly add tomatoes into the pan, using caution to prevent splattering. Stir in the sugar, and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low/medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, until the sauce becomes thickened. Stir in 1/2 cup of water. Purée in the blender until sauce is bright orange-red and smooth. Return to pan and keep warm on low heat until ready to use.
For the filling: Add the spinach to a large stockpot and heat on medium low to medium heat, stirring occasionally, until wilted. Drain spinach in a fine mesh sieve, then squeeze out remaining water with paper towels. Chop and set aside. In a large bowl (or wipe out the stockpot), combine ricotta, egg, and Parmesan. Stir in the chopped spinach and season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste.
For the béchamel: Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low to medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook for a minutes or so, whisking constantly. Slowly add the milk, about 1/4 cup at a time, until the sauce is smooth. Season generously with salt, pepper, and nutmeg (in fact, I over-season a bit because it mellows with the other elements in the finished dish.) Continue cooking, stirring constantly, for an additional 5 minutes.
To assemble: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8 x 12 inch (or similar-sized rectangular) baking dish. Spread a layer of béchamel in the bottom of the dish. Drop a few tablespoons of filling into the center of a crepe and fold tightly. Place in the baking dish seam side down (I laid them crosswise). Continue with remaining crepes.
Pour the remaining béchamel over the rolled crepes, then cover with the tomato sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan and bake, uncovered, until top is golden and bubbling, about 40 minutes. Cool for 5-10 minutes before serving, checking carefully where each crepe begins and ends before lifting out.