One of the earliest French culinary imports to make a dent in America was the crepe, which remains popular today. | Matthew Mead~AP
Updated: July 24, 2013 10:40AM
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 taste less 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 come close to. 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.