Tradition has it that Shrove Tuesday is a time for eating crêpes because it allows good Christians to use up their store of rich eggs, milk, sugar and flour before fasting during Lent. I've always had a bit of a problem about this: surely one would be more likely to live it up with good red meat before the start of the Lenten season? Of course lobster, oysters and other seafood that we now think of decadent holiday food would be allowed anyway. But I can't see a stout medieval knight opting for eggs over beef before starting his fast.
Well, we live in the modern world and this lapsed Catholic doesn't really observe Lent, except to occasionally prefer fish to meat on a Friday, if she thinks of it and it isn't too inconvenient. So really, not much at all. But I do like the excuse to exercise my wits in coming up with a new crêpe recipe - or two. I don't know why it always seems so difficult to find a good recipe. You'd think that the thin savoury pancake would be the perfect vehicle for so many sauces. I'm sure that more than once in the last year a tasty but not very pretty sauce has been mentally set aside with the reflection "but it would be good in a crêpe..." On the day, I can never remember any of these ideas and spend fruitless time searching the web for something original.
This year, for once, I DID remember one of those sauces: a grated artichoke sauce that looked supremely unappetising on a grilled chicken breast. And since the Critic doesn't like artichokes (everyone has some small default of character) I also made a less original filling of leeks, mushrooms and bacon. (He thinks he doesn't like leeks or mushrooms either, but what the eye doesn't see the tongue often doesn't object to...) They certainly fit the bill for extravagance and richness, as I used nearly a full pot of crème fraîche and a fair amount of butter. Two crêpes each were more than enough to make us resigned to trying out the dessert crêpes on another night. In six weeks time, if we want to be good Christians...
Below are the recipes for the two crêpe fillings I made this evening. For the crêpes themselves, see last year's Pancake Tuesday post.
Artichoke and bacon crêpes (filling for two large crêpes)
I bought some frozen artichoke hearts recently as I wanted to experiment with artichokes. Since I cannot bear the idea of throwing away the leaves of an artichoke any more than I can envisage saving the heart for another recipe once I eat my way through the leaves, I never have managed to do anything fancy with them. I steam them, dip the leaves in lemon butter and devour the heart: end of story. Frozen artichoke hearts solve this little dilemma and incidentally save me a lot of work. They are delightful in a sauce: meaty and nutty and surprisingly rich. They are perfectly complimented by salty bacon and Parmesan and made silky by the crème fraîche.
5 artichoke hearts, just barely cooked
2 Tbs butter
2 slices crispy bacon (I used English style bacon, but pancetta or even ham would work)
3 Tbs Parmesan cheese
2 Tbs crème fraîche
Melt the butter in a small pan. Grate the artichoke hearts and add to the butter. Crumble the bacon into the pan. Stir in the crème fraîche and bring to a bubble. Cook for a few moments until the flavours have mingled and the sauce is piping hot. Stir in the Parmesan and divide between two hot crêpes.
Leek, Mushroom and Bacon Filling (makes enough for three large crêpes)
1 large leek, green end and root trimmed, washed and sliced in thin rounds
4-5 medium mushrooms
200 grams lardons or other bacon-like substance
2 slices of crisply fried bacon, crumbled
3 heaping Tbs crème fraîche, divided
3 Tbs sherry
1 Tbs fresh (or frozen) chopped chives
Freshly ground pepper
3 Tbs butter
Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the leek rings. Cook over a low heat; while the leeks start to soften, wash and slice the mushrooms and then add them to the pan. Once the mushrooms and leeks are soft and silky (you may need to add a smidgeon more butter), scrape them out of the pan into a bowl. Add the lardons to the pan, turn up the heat and fry until crispy. If they release a lot of grease, you may want to drain this off. Add the sherry without turning down the flame, and use a spoon to deglaze the pan, scraping up browned bits of lardons from the bottom of the pan. Once the liquid has reduced by about half and the bottom of the pan is clean, turn down the heat and add the leeks and mushrooms back to the pan. Add two of the three tablespoons of crème fraîche and stir. Taste for pepper. Divide the filling between three crêpes and place them in a warm oven. Add the remaining crème fraîche to the pan used for the sauce and stir in the chives. Once this sauce is warm, pour it over the crêpes and top them with the crispy crumbled bacon. Serve immediately.