Hi there, I’m back. I feel like I need a sick note signed by my Dad for last week’s absence, so here is my best effort…
I woke up with a scratchy throat one day last week. Attributing it to my air conditioner, I drank a large cup of hot tea and went on my way. I then walked twenty blocks for a lunch date and showed up overheated and tired. I attributed that to the fickle weather, a day that felt more swampy and sticky than crisp and cool like a fall day should, and proceeded to down a large glass of water and two large glasses of iced tea over lunch. After barely touching my Gruyere tartine with cornichons and feeling hot, clammy and feverish once I schlepped home, I curled up on my couch and decided I should probably make some homemade chicken soup to battle this impending bug. But then I passed out for 5 days.
Everyone has their go-to comfort food to cure their cold-weather ailments. In the old days (aka my childhood), there was, of course, my Mom’s chicken soup or pastina to nurse me back to health. Although I no longer have the novelty of my Mom in the kitchen, I do have a sweet boyfriend who brings me a smorgasbord of hydration and sick-person sustenance like orange Gatorade, apple juice, mashed potatoes and udon noodle soup. I was entirely grateful for all of those things, but sometimes you really just need a remedy straight from your childhood to snap you back to wellness. So when my head stopped throbbing and I no longer felt like I wanted to die, I stumbled into the kitchen to scope out the goods.
There was no pastina. There were no vegetables for soup. There was–nothing really. There were a few eggs and some grated cheese, typical staples in my apartment, and that’s when I had the bright idea to make an old family favorite, scapel soup (scah-pell). For the longest time, I thought this was something that my family had made up along the way. No one else I talked to with Italian heritage had ever heard of “scapel soup,” although there was a “scrapel soup” which got me thinking. After scouring every online Italian resource I could find, I came upon the obvious, but overlooked, Crespelle, the Italian word for crepe. Oh, how old-world words have been tweaked and reconstructed to create a new little language (Itanglish, anyone?). This soup, whatever you want to call it, is something special. Paper thin crepes stuffed with bits of romano cheese and fresh cracked pepper are submerged in homemade chicken broth. It sounds simple enough, but it’s soul satisfying and delicious and just what I needed to kick my cold’s bum.
The recipe for my Nana’s scapels is much simpler than traditional crespelle recipes. No milk, no oil: just water, flour, eggs and salt. Thicker than milk, thinner than cream, I can still picture the batter poured from my Nana’s ladle into a hot pan greased with a little olive oil. She would tilt and roll the pan until a thin translucent layer of batter evenly coated the bottom. When the edges turned opaque and peeled away from the sizzling pan, she flipped it over for two more minutes. And that’s it–the scapel was ready with crispy golden edges, a soft, pliable center and browned bubbly pockets all over. I would eat them up, right out of the pan, drizzled with syrup or rolled up with jam. But this soup is by far my favorite way to eat them and comes in handy when cold weather and the sniffles abound.
The batter is very tweak-able. I usually don’t measure, I just add flour or water until it’s the consistency I remember. Use this as a base and remember, thicker than milk, thinner than cream.
For the scapel (That’s what Nana called it and I’m sticking to it)
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cup water
pinch of salt
Whisk together eggs and water. Add flour and salt and whisk to combine.
Heat a 10-inch pan over medium heat and using a paper towel, lightly grease with olive oil. Pour a small ladle of batter (about 1/4- 1/3 cup) into the pan, tilting until the bottom is completely coated. Cook 2-3 minutes or until the sides begin pulling away from the pan and the bottom is browned. Turn over. Cook for another 2 minutes until golden brown.
Grease pan as needed, and continue with the rest of the batter. Pile scapels on top of each other on a plate near the stove. They should keep warm this way. You should get about 10 scapels from this batter.
For the soup
grated Romano cheese
cracked black pepper
chicken broth/stock (preferably homemade)
Starting with the top scapel on the pile, sprinkle it with about 1 tbsp of grated cheese and 3 turns of black pepper. Starting at the edge, begin rolling the scapel like a cigar as tightly as you can. Set aside, seam side down. Continue with remaining scapels.
Using large shallow soup bowls, lay 2-3 scapels, seam side down, in each bowl. Ladel chicken broth over scapels to fill. Garnish with parsley, if you wish.