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One of the earliest French culinary imports to make a dent in America was the crepe. As a kid in New York during the '60s, I remember dining with my family at quite a few creperies. I also remember the black steel crepe pan my folks bought, a token of their desire to make crepes at home every once in a while.
This admirable ambition faced two stumbling blocks. First, if the pan wasn't well-seasoned (which required using it a lot and treating it with special care), the crepes stuck to it. And that meant we usually destroyed the crepes when the moment came to dig them out of the pan.
Second, conventional wisdom had it that each crepe in a stack of cooked crepes needed to be separated from the crepes above and below it using individual sheets of waxed paper, otherwise they'd all stick together. Well, who had the patience for that kind of fussiness?
Happily, I have solved both problems. Though I'm not generally a fan of non-stick pans - the usual choice for making crepes these days - they do work. I prefer stick-resistant skillets, which are coated with a safe enamel that works well with crepes. I've also discovered that you can stack crepes. They don't stick to each other!
Still, why bother with crepes? Because if you have some crepes in the freezer and some leftovers in the fridge, you can put an elegant dinner on the table in no time. And if you make the crepes without sugar, they can be used in sweet or savory preparations. You can stuff them with everything from leftover cooked pork chops, to broccoli and cheddar cheese, to fresh berries and vanilla yogurt.
The crepes in this recipe are made not with white flour, but with stone-ground cornmeal and whole-wheat flour. This gives them not only better nutrition, but heartier taste and texture, too. As you cook them, be sure to re-stir the batter every time you reach into the bowl for more. That way the cornmeal will be evenly distributed in every crepe.
Whenever I cook crepes, I always try to make a double batch, which allows me to freeze the second half for future meals. If the crepes in a group are sticking together after they've been defrosted, I simply wrap them in foil and warm them in the oven for 10 minutes. Then they separate easily.
Here in the heart of summer, it's natural to take advantage of the abundance of summer stone fruit. Any variety will shine in this recipe - peaches, plums, cherries or nectarines - and in any stage of ripeness. We are poaching them, after all, which allows us to transform even an unripe and tasteless piece of fruit into something tender and deeply flavorful.
The magic ingredient in this process is wine, which - thanks to its taste and acidity - boosts the flavor of any dish. If you can't use wine, just swap in your favorite fruit juice, keeping in mind that you will probably have to adjust the sugar before you're done.
Finally, I realize that the fresh vanilla bean called for here can be pricey. It's worth the splurge. Vanilla beans perfume a dish in a way that vanilla extract can't. And here's a bonus; when you're done using the bean in this recipe, you can rinse it out, let it dry, then drop it into your canister of sugar, where, in its afterlife, the husk will impart a tinge of irresistible vanilla flavor to every grain.
CORN CREPES STUFFED WITH SUMMER FRUITS
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup 1 percent milk
2 large eggs
1/4 cup cornmeal, preferably stone ground
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
Pinch table salt
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
6 cups, pitted and cubed fresh summer fruit, such as nectarines, plums and peaches
3/4 cup nonfat vanilla yogurt
In a small skillet over low heat, cook the butter until it starts to turn brown and smell nutty. Transfer the butter to a blender, then add the milk, eggs, cornmeal, flour and salt. Blend just until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and let rest for 30 minutes.
While the batter is resting, in a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the wine, sugar and vanilla bean. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. (If using vanilla extract, add it to the fruit after the fruit has cooked for 20 minutes in the next step.) Add the fruit, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes.
While the fruit is poaching, make the crepes. Mist a 10-inch nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Heat over medium heat.
Stir the crepe batter and quickly pour 1/4 cup of it into the skillet, tilting the batter in the pan to make sure that the bottom is completely covered. Cook the crepe until it is lightly browned on the bottom, about 1 minute. Flip, cook for another 30 seconds, then transfer it to a rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining batter to produce 8 crepes. Once cooled, the crepes can be stacked. Set them aside.
After the fruit has poached for 20 minutes, use a slotted spoon to transfer it to a bowl, making sure to leave most of the cooking liquid in the saucepan. Scrape the seeds inside the vanilla bean out with the tip of a paring knife and add them to the fruit.
Bring the cooking liquid remaining in the saucepan to a boil and cook it until it is reduced to about 1/2 cup. Transfer the liquid to a small pitcher and return the fruit to the pan. Heat over medium until hot.
To assemble the crepes: Mound a bit of the fruit filling down the middle of each of the crepes, then roll up. Arrange the filled crepes, seam side down, on dessert plates, then drizzle them with the reduced sauce and top with 2 tablespoons of the yogurt.