Boiling Point: Think of crepes as blank canvasses

Jim Hillibish

The starch component (rice, potatoes or pasta) gets boring after awhile. We need to break the carbo cycle with something totally different.

We were in San Francisco on a windy street corner watching lunch customers line up at a cart. The guy was cooking crepes in a wok and filling them with whatever you wanted. Veggies, ham, cheese, roast beef, shrimp, strawberries, pineapple -- whatever.

The line stretched for a block. This was the only $6 lunch downtown.

Since then, when we cannot stand another spoonful of rice or dollop of potato, I haul out the crepe pan and build a pile of thin French pancakes.

Wrap it up

Crepes are perfect for wrapping items such as ham with an asparagus spear and Swiss cheese. I substitute them for lasagna noodles, pizza shells, tortillas and bread in any number of main-course and dessert recipes.

They're an instant Sunday brunch and a fancy Sunday supper, or a take along sandwich to a ball game or a picnic appetizer. Or one-handed food in the car. It never ends.

While you’re in a creative mood, customize your crepes. I add fresh dill to the batter for veggie ones, parmesan cheese and basil for the lasagna and ground sun-dried tomatoes and garlic for seafood.

One thing crepes require is forethought, more than opening a bag of spuds.

The batter must stand for at least an hour in the fridge to form properly. Then you'll spend about 30 minutes cooking a stack of 20.

This is one of those few menus that really do need a special pan. Any flat, no-stick pan with rounded sides will do, but it only should be used for crepes. That ensures they won't stick. My pan is a heavy steel one. A small wok works well.

Here's the recipe:

Basic Crepe Batter

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 eggs, beaten

1 1/2 cups milk

2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled, or olive oil

Dump everything but the butter or oil into a blender and blend until smooth, pausing to work the flour down the sides with a spatula. Add any optional extras such as a tablespoon of fresh herbs or a quarter cup of grated parmesan cheese. Finally, drizzle in the melted butter and blend some more. Keep covered and refrigerate for at least an hour. You could make the batter a day ahead. Makes 20 medium-size crepes

Added explanation

Oil your crepe pan lightly with a paper towel. Place on medium heat. When hot, take off the heat and pour two tablespoons of batter into the center it and swirl the pan around to cover the bottom to the sides. I use a two-tablespoon plastic ladle for measuring.

Place on heat. In 30 seconds or so, you'll be able to move the crepe with a spatula. Flip it over and cook another few seconds on the other side. Remove to a plate to begin your pile. You need not oil the pan again.

Crepes always have two sides, a smooth, brown one and a dimply one. They look best with the smooth side out when you roll or fold them.

Leftover crepes freeze well on a plate covered by a plastic bag. They won't stick together on thawing.

My favorite crepe recipe is to spread cream cheese and boiled shrimp on them and roll them. I bake these uncovered for 20 minutes at 350 degrees in a cheese sauce made of stirred flour, butter, milk and gorgonzola. A dusting of fresh cumin or paprika on top is perfect.

A fun meal is to lay out some cold cuts, veggies, cheese, lettuce and condiments with crepes and allow your family to roll their own. For a nifty brunch, include scrambled eggs, diced ham, crumbled bacon, jam, strawberries and whipped cream and maple syrup. You can feed a lot of people easily this way.

Think of a crepe as an empty canvas, ready for your next culinary whim. Like potatoes rice and pasta, the possibilities are endless.

Canton Repository