Lamb and Ricotta Crespelle with Tomato and Pecorino

From A16: Food + Wine (Ten Speed Press, 2008)

Lamb is the most commonly prepared meat in southern Italy, for good reason. Sheep are nimble animals and require less food and pastureland than cows, which are important traits in the rocky, dry terrain of Campania and surrounding regions.

The lambs we get from Don Watson of Napa Valley Lamb are milk fed, and their meat has a subtle flavor. The lightness of crespelle (Italian crepes), paired with ricotta, complements the richness of the lamb without overwhelming its nuanced flavor. When preparing this dish, make the crespelle batter and marinate the lamb the night before you plan to serve the dish. Since lamb shanks vary in their meatiness, you may be left with extra filling. Leftovers can be heated gently and tossed together with mint and peas to sauce pasta.

Serves 6 

2 cups whole milk
1-1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
4 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig rosemary, leaves picked and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds lamb shanks
Kosher salt
1 cup water
1 pound (about 2 cups) fresh ricotta, drained if very moist
Leaves from 2 sprigs mint, torn into pieces 1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 (28-ounce) can San Marzano tomatoes with juices

Block of aged pecorino for grating
Extra virgin olive oil for finishing

  1. To make the batter for the crespelle, in a bowl, whisk together the milk, flour, eggs, butter, and salt until well combined. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
  2. To make the filling, in a small bowl, combine the garlic, rosemary, and olive oil. Place the lamb shanks in a shallow dish, season them with about 2 teaspoons salt, and thencoat them with the olive oil mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Preheat the oven to 250°F.
  4. Transfer the shanks to a roasting pan or Dutch oven and pour in the water. Cover, transfer the pot to the oven, and roast for about 4 hours, or until the meat is completely tender and beginning to fall off the bone.
  5. Remove the pot from the oven. Place a colander over a bowl, and transfer the shanks to the colander to rest. Let the braising liquid rest in the pot for 30 minutes to allow the fat to rise to the surface. Skim off most of the fat with a large spoon. Taste the liquid for seasoning and add salt if needed. Stir in any liquid that has drained from the resting shanks, and set the braising liquid aside. You should have about 1 cup.
  6. Once the meat is cool enough to handle, pull away the meat from the bones and shred it into bite-sized pieces with your fingers. In a bowl, combine the lamb, ricotta, mint, and chile flakes and mix well. Set the filling aside.
  7. To make each crespella, heat an 8-inch nonstick saute pan or crepe pan over medium heat. Brush the pan with butter, then ladle about 1/4 cup of the batter into the pan. Swirl the batter in the pan until evenly distributed. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the bottom is golden and the top is almost dry. Using a spatula and a flick of the wrist, flip the crespella carefully and cook for 30 seconds on the second side, or until the bottom is lightly browned. Slide the crespella onto a plate and repeat until all of the batter has been used, brushing the pan with butter as needed and stacking the crespella as you work. You should have 16 to 20 crespella.
  8. To make the lamb sauce, heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and chile flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, or until the garlic softens and starts to turn golden. Remove from the heat and gradually pour in the wine. Return to the stove, increase the heat to medium-high, and reduce for 3 minutes, or until the wine has evaporated. Add the braising liquid and cook for about 3 minutes more, or until reduced by three-fourths.
  9. Meanwhile, place the canned tomatoes and their juices in a bowl and crush with your hands or the back of a wooden spoon. Once the sauce has reduced, stir in the tomatoes and bring the sauce to a boil. Remove from the heat and reserve.
  10. To assemble the crespella, lay a crespella flat on a work surface. Spread 1/3 cup of the filling horizontally along the center, fold the edge of the crespella closest to you over the filling, and then roll it up, securing the filling firmly inside. Place the crespella, seam side down, in the roasting pan. Repeat until all of the crespella have been filled.
  11. Place the pan in the oven and heat the crespella, rotating the pan front to back after a couple of minutes, for about 5 minutes, or until evenly browned.
  12. Meanwhile, reheat the sauce until hot. When the crespella are ready, remove them from the oven. To serve, spoon the sauce into warmed bowls, dividing it evenly, and place the crespella on top. Grate pecorino over the top of each serving, and then drizzle with olive oil to finish. Serve immediately.