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Melgarejo Hojiblanca Creamy Tomato Bechamel

This creamy bechamel sauce eschews the saturated fat of butter for vastly healthier UP Certified Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

However, that's not the end of the story.  Here I used the inimitable Hojiblanca from Melgarejo Estate in Spain, which brings a spectacular flavor to the otherwise bland canvas that is bechamel sauce.

Pictured are Italian style crepes also known as manicotti, which are rolled around fresh sauteed spinach, caramelized wild mushrooms, shallots, and a trinity of cheeses.  Every aspect of this dish is positively affected by the use of high quality extra virgin olive oil.  It's a perfect example of how a good dish can be made spectacular by being mindful of the characteristics of the olive oil.

I've broken the recipe in to several parts. Feel free to use any or all of them for your own concept of this versatile dish known as manicotti.

Creamy Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Tomato Bechamel Sauce
3 tablespoons fruity, complex, green, fresh, UP extra virgin olive oil
2 medium shallots minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons flour,
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup tomato sauce
a dash of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
1/2 cup grated Pecorino cheese
Sea salt to taste
Fresh cracked pepper

Heat the oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.  Add the shallots and saute until transclucent and tender.  Add the garlic and saute another minute.  Add the flour and stir to incorporate so that there are no lumps or dry spots left.  Slowly drizzle in the milk, whisking constantly.  Stir and bring to a bare simmer until thickened.  Add the cheese, and stir.  Add the tomato sauce and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Stir until thickened to buttermilk consistency.  Use this versatile sauce for pasta, lasagna, crepes, veggies, etc.

Savory or Sweet Extra Virgin Olive Oil Crepes
1 cup all purpose flour
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons UP Extra Virgin Olive Oil (or Lemon, Orange, or Tangerine Agrumato for sweet crepes)
1 pinch of salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water

Add the liquid ingredients, olive oil, eggs, and salt to the jar of a blender, the bowl of a food processor, or alternately whisk together by hand.  Add the flour and process until completely blended with no lumps or dry spots of flour.

Allow to stand for 1/2 hour at room temperature.

Heat a 12" wide non-stick skillet over medium-low heat, and rub with olive oil.  Pour about 1/4 cup of the crepe batter in and rotate the pan to spread the batter in to a circle.  After about a minute, flip the crepe and cook for an additional minute on the other side.  Remove to a plate and continue until all the batter has been used.  Fill with sweet or savory fillings.

Makes 6 large crepes

Spinach, Cheese, and Wild Mushroom Filling

2 cups sliced wild mushrooms or Cremini mushrooms
3 cups baby spinach
2 shallots minced
1 clove garlic minced
2 tablespoons UP Certified Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 cup Fontina cheese grated
1/4 cup Pecorino cheese, grated
1/2 cup cherve (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms and saute until they begin to caramelize slightly.  Add the shallots and saute for a couple of minutes.  Add the garlic and saute for another minute.  Add the spinach and saute until wilted.  Stir in the Fontina, and other cheeses. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.  Makes a great filling for crepes or omelets.

Filling for 6 large crepes

Spinach & Wild Mushroom Manicotti in Tomato-Olive Oil Bechamel
To make the dish pictured above, preheat the oven to 375.  Grease a 13"x9" baking dish with olive oil.  Fill the crepes with the spinach filling.  Ladle 1 cup of tomato bechamel in to the bottom of the dish.  Arrange the stuffed crepes in a single layer over the sauce, and spread the rest of the sauce on top of the crepes.  Add a sprinkle of cheese to the top, if desired.

Bake the crepes for 25 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and slightly golden in spots.  Serve warm.