The recipe mocks me.

It has for years. Ever since I clipped it from a Gourmet magazine 10 years ago, it has dared me to try it.

“Remember your gnocchi nightmares?” it taunts. “Your dinner party fails?

“Those will be a cakewalk compared with me!”

(“Wah ha ha ha …”)

Huh. Who has the last laugh now?

Blessed with Spring Break’s gift of spare time, I decide to stare down my recipe fears today. I pull the mockster from its protective plastic sleeve and get to work.

This recipe hails from 2007. A stack of thin crepes sandwiches layers of broccoli rabe, Italian sausage and Parmesan-spiked bechamel. The whole shebang is showered with two kinds of cheese and baked to oozy, golden perfection.

As I remember, the dish graced Gourmet‘s cover the month it appeared. Yet it mocked me for a decade.

Why?

Well, it’s long. It requires multiple steps, including making crepes, which I’ve never done before. And — truth be told — it’s kind of precious. I can imagine dinner guests rolling their eyes on the way home from a party and lamenting the hubris of a hostess who deigned to serve them a tower of crepes and cheese. (“Did you get a load of that entree?” they’d demand.)

But tonight, I’m up for a challenge. I have the time. I have the ingredients. And I have only my husband and younger son to feed. If dinner is a flop, we can always order pizza.

I pull the intimidator out of its plastic sleeve and start cooking.

The first thing I realize? Crepes are really easy to make — at least this recipe’s.

“So far, so good,” I say as I look at the six Italian “crespelles” I have cooling on a kitchen towel.

Second, this recipe is long on instruction but short on detail.

“Should I drain the broccoli rabe and sausage?” I wonder as I mix the two together. “Is it okay that the torta doesn’t reach the edges of my baking pan? Should the bechamel be this thick?”

But never having made the torta (and having listened to it mock me for 10 years), I decide to follow Gourmet‘s instructions to a proverbial T.

The result?

An oozing, glorious pile of Italian crepes, sausage, broccoli rabe, bechemal and cheese. It took awhile to make; if I do it again, I’ll definitely drain the sausage, increase the amount of bitter broccoli rabe and cut the cheese quotient by about half.

But those are details. The fact remains:

I have faced my mocker and emerged victorious.

Who’s laughing now?

Italian Torta With Broccoli Rabe & Italian Sausage (adapted from Gourmet)

This dish takes about two hours to prepare if you tackle it in one day. The good news is you can make the crespelles, the rabe and sausage filling, and the bechamel a day ahead. I’ve incorporated changes to the original — the amount of cheese is halved; the sausage is drained; the bechamel layer is cut from 1/2 to 1/3 a cup. Those tweaks won’t affect the dish’s final taste; they simply lighten the caloric load a bit.

For the crespelles:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted

Place the eggs, milk, flour and salt in a blender and whir until well mixed.

Heat an 8- to 10-inch, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Brush with butter, then pour in 1/4 cup of crespelle batter. Cook for 35-40 seconds, or until the center is set. Run a rubber spatula around the edges and invert onto a clean kitchen towel.

Repeat five times, brushing your pan with more melted butter before making each crespelle.

For the filling:

  • 2 bunches broccoli rabe, tough ends discarded and rabe roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
  • 3/4 pound sweet Italian sausage

Bring a large pan of water to a boil. Salt liberally, then add the broccoli rabe.

Cook for 5 minutes. Drain and place the rabe in a bowl of ice water.

Drain again and dry the rabe well. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the garlic and red pepper and cook for 30-40 seconds.

Add the sausage and cook until no pink is left.

Drain any excess fat from your pan, then add the broccoli rabe. Stir until heated through. Set aside.

For the bechamel:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 3/4 cup milk, warmed in the microwave for a minute or so
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Melt the butter in a large saucepan.

Add the flour and whisk over medium-high heat for 3 minutes.

Slowly add the warm milk, whisking constantly.

Bring the milk and butter/flour mixture to a boil, whisking all the time. When it boils and is thick, add the salt, pepper and Parmesan. Remove from the heat and whisk until smooth.

For the assembly:

  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs
  • 6 crespelles
  • Broccoli rabe & sausage filling
  • Parmesan bechamel
  • 1/2 cup Italian fontinella, coarsely grated
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Brush the butter on the bottom and up the sides of an 8-inch springform pan. Wrap two layers of aluminum foil around the pan and place it on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on the pan’s bottom.

Place 1 crespelle in the center of the pan. Spoon 1/6th of the rabe and sausage filling atop the crespelle. Spoon 1/3 cup of bechamel atop the filling.

Place another crespelle on top of the bechamel, pressing down slightly. Add another 1/6th filling and 1/3 cup bechamel. Top with a third crespelle and press slightly:

Finish layering in this manner until you have used the last crespelle, the last bit of filling and the last 1/3 cup bechamel. (Note that the torta is in the center of the pan. That’s fine.)

Top with the fontinella and Parmesan:

Bake for 25 minutes, or until the cheeses are golden:

Place the springform pan on a rack and allow it to cool for 15 minutes. Then unhinge the pan and gently move the torta to a platter. Cut away any excess cheese and breadcrumbs so you have a nifty little package:

Cut into wedges using a very sharp knife. Serve with a bright, crunchy salad and a hearty Italian red wine to cut through the torta’s richness.

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