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Many Italian recipes call for prepared pastas, but there is an alternative many cooks use whenever fresh pasta is not readily available or isn't appropriate for the dish. Italian crepes called crespelle can be prepared in a standard crepe pan and used instead of pasta noodles in popular dishes such as lasagna and manicotti. In fact, they are also known as manicotti pancakes in some cooking circles.
Crespelle can be used in either savory or sweet recipes, although the crepe batter is not usually prepared with sugar. A typical batter recipe calls for eggs, all-purpose flour, water, milk, and salt. The ingredients are mixed together until the batter is the consistency of a heavy cream or thinner. It is ladled into an oiled or buttered crepe pan or other nonstick pan and only cooked until very lightly browned. This technique may require some practice until consistent results are possible.
The crepes can be made ahead of time and stacked until needed. A standard cheese-and-meat manicotti filling, for example, meshes well with crespelle. Sweetened fruit fillings can also be placed inside to form the centerpiece of an elaborate dessert. Instead of flat lasagna noodles, individual layers of a lasagna can be separated by the crepes. Filled ones can also be covered with cheese and baked off in an oven. A sauce suitable for pasta can also be used with them.
While butter can be used to prevent crespelle from sticking to the pan, many cooks use olive oil to give the finished crepes a more savory flavor. Ideally, they should be as thin and light as other types of crepes, not heavy or thick like traditional pancakes. A small amount of thin batter should be swirled around the pan, and the crepe quickly turned when it begins to pull away from the sides and solidify.
Many people prefer the lighter texture of crespelle in traditional Italian dishes, especially in recipes designed for vegetarians or those on carb-restrictive diets.