This elaborate stack of crepes, greens, bechamel, and cheese is the first thing I ever cooked with Glenn. So it seems appropriate that, a number of years later, I’m making it for his birthday (hi, happy birthday!). What is not appropriate is that because this is a pretty involved recipe I don’t make it very often. When we made it years ago I miscalculated how long it would take. I was imagining 30 or so genial minutes of ambling in the kitchen; what we got was more like 1.5 hours of silent labor. Not a bad thing, but, you know, a little awkward. So be warned: this dish is almost too impressive–not to mention too involved–to make with someone you don’t know very well.

After we made it once and loved it, I decided to add it to my recipe book–just a notebook where I copy out simple recipes or tape in more complicated ones I’ve printed out. But in order to make this one fit in the book I had to use every formatting trick at my disposal. I pasted the recipe into Word, decreased the margins to almost nothing, took out every unnecessary carriage return, reduced the font to 10.5…basically the opposite of what you do when your term paper is too short. (On this note, one of my friends used to add words to the final sentence of each paragraph until it went onto the next line, in order to increase the length of the essay by a half page or so–this is definitely the most ingenious method I know of.) I managed to fit it into the book this way, but reading it is like trying to decipher bad 19th-century cursive.

What makes this dish special–and different from a standard lasagna–is that you make the pasta yourself, in the form of eggy crepes. What also makes it special is that the recipe is practically prefect as-is. When I made it on Friday I fiddled with it, test-kitchen style, assuming that I of course knew how to make it better. I added a shallot to the greens, along with some wine–what lasagna doesn’t need more liquid, delicious liquid?–and thinned the bechamel until it was the texture of alfredo sauce. These would have been good edits if the torta were not so delicately structured. Adding more moisture is pretty much the worst idea ever, as my photos detail. I cropped off the giant landslides of cheese and sauce that slithered down the side when I unmolded the thing, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there. Where a regular lasagna stays in its pan, this torta stands on its own, and too much liquid makes the layers unsound. It ended up being a tasty but rather ugly lesson in the effects of my kitchen hubris.

See?

So the only edit I’m suggesting is a little extra milk in the sauce, and your choice of winter greens. If you use broccoli rabe like the recipe says, then I would take their advice and do that extra annoying step of boiling water, par cooking the greens, flashing them in ice water, and squeezing them dry. A big drag. If you use slightly more tender greens, like kale, chard, or mustard greens, then I advise adding them to the sausage right after you clean them, and letting that extra water steam them. And then, of course, cook the mixture until it’s totally dry. Do it. And if you want a nice looking picture, go to epicurious. Ain’t none of that here.

Also–simply leave out the meat to make this vegetarian. It is still completely worth the effort. On that note–you could just use this flavor profile in a regular lasagna. Get those flat Barilla lasagna noodles, make the sausage and greens filling, and the bechamel, and layer it all together.

Sausage and Broccoli Rabe Torta; or, more humbly, Winter Greens Torta
adapted from Gourmet
serves 5-6 as a main dish

Crepes:

2 large eggs
2/3 C milk
1/2 C flour
1/4 t salt
2 T unsalted butter, melted, for the skillet

Filling:

3/4 lb. broccoli rabe, or two bunches of assorted greens (I’d advise against red chard because it stains the torta)
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 t red pepper flakes
3 T olive oil
3/4 lb. sweet Italian sausage, casings removed–that’s around 3 sausages

Bechamel:

1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/4 C flour
2 C milk
1/4 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1/2 C finely grated parmesan

Putting it together:

1/4 lb. Fontina cheese, coarsely grated (1 C)
1/2 C finely grated parmesan

** you’ll also need an 8-inch round springform pan **

Crepes

Using an immersion blender, regular old blender, or very hearty whisk, mix together eggs, milk, flour, and salt until smooth. Brush a 10-inch nonstick skillet with melted butter pretty lightly–you need less than you think. I’m not sure if a 10-inch nonstick skillet is standard kitchen fare, but mine is 8, which means that my crepes come out a little small for the 8-inch springform pan. If this is the case for you too, tilt the skillet so that the crepe batter runs up the side–this will increase the circumference a bit (though you’re definitely better off just doing what they say, considering the dubious integrity of the torta). After you’ve made one crepe, hold it up to the springform pan bottom. This will give you a sense of how big you need to make the rest of the crepes.

Heat the skilled over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Ladle about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of batter into skillet, tilting and rotating skillet to coat the bottom (and sides, if you’re taking that route). If the batter sets before the skillet is coated, your pan is too hot! Cook until just set and underside is lightly browned, about 30 seconds, then dump the crepe onto a kitchen towel or sheet pan to cool. (It will be cooked on one side only.) Make 5 more crepes with remaining batter, brushing skillet with melted butter as needed–again, this will be less than you think. You can make several before needing to re-butter.

Crepes can be made ahead, wrapped up in plastic wrap and stored in the fridge.

Filling

If you’re using broccoli rabe, cut off and discard 1 inch from stem ends, then coarsely chop remainder. Bring a big pot of water to a boil, add a handful of salt and then the broccoli rabe. Cook uncovered until just tender, about 5 minutes. With a big spider spoon, transfer to a large bowl of ice and cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well in a colander and squeeze dry.

Heat a big skillet over medium heat and cook garlic with red pepper flakes in oil, stirring occasionally, until golden–this only takes a minute. Add the sausage (without their casings) and cook until there’s no pink left, about 5 minutes, breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon. Stir in broccoli rabe and toss to coat with sausage until the mix is relatively uniform. Remove from heat.

If you’re using other winter greens instead of broccoli rabe, slice them into 1-inch strips and wash in a big bowl of water. Pick up handfuls of the wet greens and add them to the garlic, red pepper flakes, and cooked sausage. Cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes until the greens are tender and their residual water is evaporated, stirring every few minutes. You want this mixture to be quite dry–if it’s not, crank up the heat.

Filling can be made ahead.

Sauce

Melt the butter in a 1- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over medium low heat, then add flour and whisk, cooking about 3 minutes. Add milk slowly, whisking all the time, and bring to a boil, still whisking on occasion. Reduce heat and simmer until the sauce gets really thick–and guess what, still whisking on occasion! Stir in salt, pepper, and cheese, then remove from heat. The sauce will be pretty stiff, and this is ok–it acts as tasty glue for the torta.

Assembly

Preheat oven to 425. Invert bottom of springform pan (the torta will be easier to cut without that ridge in your way), then lock. Wrap outside of entire bottom of springform pan with a double layer of foil. Spray the inside with Pam–or if you’re old school, brush with some of that melted butter from the crepes. Gourmet wants you to sprinkle the bottom with breadcrumbs at this point so that you can slide the torta off the pan when it’s cooked. This seems incredibly unlikely to me, and it serves just fine on the pan. Follow your heart.

Put 1 crepe in the bottom of the springform pan, then sprinkle with one sixth of filling and drizzle with 1/3 cup sauce. Make 5 more layers each of crepe, filling, and sauce (end with a layer of sauce). Don’t worry if you’re unable to spread the sauce evenly over each layer. Dollops will work out in the long run as the torta bakes and the sauce spreads. Mix together the remaining parm and fontina, then sprinkle cheese mixture evenly over top.

Bake, uncovered, until top is bubbling and golden, about 25 minutes (30 minutes if you’re assembling this from cold components that you made ahead). Cool in pan on a rack 15 minutes. Remove side of pan and cut torta into wedges.

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