Saturday, August 02, 2008

Love and Special Sauce

During the summer, with such an abundance of fresh produce, I rarely plan meals in advance. Instead, I’ll generally wait until the last minute and then survey my options before pulling together a simple dinner of whatever I have on hand. Between our CSA subscription, my Saturday morning trips to the farmer’s market, and accepting overstock from my mother’s and grandmother's gardens, my kitchen is always brimming with an eclectic array of vegetables that take center stage on our dinner plates. Truly, it is wondrous.

I still go to the grocery store for dairy products, pasta and rice, dried beans and soymilk, but for the most part, I let the local harvest dictate our menus. Summertime is perfect that way. It’s too hot to eat anyway, and, well, let’s admit it, this just isn’t the right time for heavy casseroles or long, laborious recipes. Besides, with so many vegetables right at their peak for flavor and texture, a light hand is generally all that is needed.

My favorite dinners right now are vegetable plates. I might make a frittata or a quiche with a few different veggies, or I’ll roast, grill and sauté to my heart's content until I have three or four side dishes and decide we don't even need a separate entree. Like I said, it is wondrous. And this goes on for months, until I suddenly pull back and realize that all this variety has, without warning, become dull. Generally it is late August before this happens, and quite honestly, it could just be that the heat has roasted my brain by that time (or the fact that we never want to see another squash again), but when it happens, IT HAPPENS, you know? Everything comes to a screeching halt and we just can’t bear it any longer.

Just once, someone will plead, just for one night, let’s have something else. No more vegetable plates, no more light and healthy meals. Bring on the cream sauce. Pile on the decadence. Do some carb-loading. See how the other half lives.

Oh, don’t worry. This won’t last. And it isn’t as if I’ve completely cracked and decided to start serving processed foods or any other such nonsense. Matter of fact, at this morning’s farmer’s market, I picked up some parsley, leeks, blue potatoes, squash, and okra (along with some locally roasted coffee beans that I am very excited about).

Last night was not a time for vegetable plates though. I wanted to inject some variety back into our lives, something unexpected and fun. The Big Boy had, out of nowhere, been asking for pancakes anyway so I took my cue from him and decided we would have an upside down day. Breakfast for dinner. But with a twist, of course.

Pancakes from a mix don’t appeal to me for obvious reasons, and The Carnivore isn’t a big fan of whole wheat pancakes, so I was most intrigued when I came across a recipe for ricotta pancakes in a recent issue of Bon Appetit magazine. And, oh my stars, the brown sugar-cherry sauce sounded perfectly delightful as well, especially if I were to substitute fresh, local blueberries since I can’t find a source for fresh cherries within 3,000 miles here.

We’re in love, this recipe and I. The ricotta and the egg whites play off each other in a strangely dichotomous way, with a simultaneous richness and lightness that make the pancakes melt in your mouth. It’s love, I tell you. A crispy exterior, a fluffy yet substantial interior, topped with a fruity, barely-sweetened sauce is the stuff of dreams. Well, my dreams at least. I don't know what everyone else dreams about...

I served the pancakes with those Creamy, Dreamy Cheddar Grits that I crave so often, and it made for a dinner that made everyone happy, adults, houseguests, and kids alike. And since there was a considerable amount of sauce left over, I think I might just have to throw together a poundcake today to sop it up with.

But then we shall repent and go back to eating squash for at least two meals a day. Amen.


RICOTTA PANCAKES WITH BLUEBERRY SAUCE (adapted from Bon Appetit, makes 12-16 pancakes, enough to serve about 4 people)
  • 1/2 cup water, divided
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 Tbs packed brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 4 large egg yolks (save 3 of the whites)
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 3 large egg whites (saved from above)
  • Vegetable oil or cooking spray for the griddle

For the sauce (oh, the glorious sauce):

  1. Whisk 1/4 cup water and the cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Melt butter in a medium cast-iron or other nonstick skillet over medium heat.
  3. To the pan, add blueberries, the remaining 1/4 cup water, and brown sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves.
  4. Increase the heat just a little, to about medium-high, and add cornstarch mixture.
  5. Stir until mixture boils and thickens slightly, about one minute.
  6. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Set aside.

For the pancakes (ah, but I do love these pancakes):

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat the ricotta cheese and egg yolks at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
  3. Reduce mixer speed to low, and add half of the flour mixture, beating just until blended.
  4. With the mixer still on low, add half of the milk, followed by the remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides of bowl.
  5. Add the remaining milk and beat only until combined.
  6. Using the mixer again, but with a clean bowl and beater, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. This will take one or two minutes, so that the peaks will stand up when the mixer is turned off and the beater is lifted. When you have a peak, you're good. Better to err on the side of not stiff enough than to have it end up dry.
  7. Fold 1/4 of the whites into the ricotta mixture, and then fold in the rest of the whites, 1/4 at a time. Don't overstir or all that wonderful air will be beaten out of the mixture.
  8. Heat griddle or large nonstick skillet over medium heat.
  9. Brush griddle with oil (or spray with cooking spray) and drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto griddle.
  10. Cook pancakes until bubbles form on top, and bottoms are golden (two to three minutes). Flip and cook for another minute or two until the other side is golden as well.
  11. Keep pancakes warm in a 200 degree oven until all are cooked.
  12. Serve with warm or room-temperature blueberry sauce.

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