Thanksgiving is arguably the most important food holiday. Sure, food matters with other holidays, but for Thanksgiving, food is the holiday. For food magazines, the Thanksgiving issue is the September issue of Vogue, and the cover girl is invariably the turkey.
At Blue Kitchen, we prefer to focus on the periphery, providing interesting side dishes that liven up the holiday table. Sweet Potato Vichyssoise for a surprising, elegant first course, Kasha, a non-traditional traditional side in our house that gravy loves every bit as much as mashed potatoes, Potato Gnocchi with Roasted Root Vegetables, a tofu-free vegetarian main course or side…
And this year, a simple, delicious holiday breakfast for weekend guests – light, creamy tasting ricotta pancakes topped with fresh fruit. In keeping with another Thanksgiving tradition at our house, I’m going to get out of the way and turn the kitchen over to Marion to tell you about them.
For us, Thanksgiving often marks the beginning of weeks of house guests. Sometimes lots of house guests. I remember one particular five-week period in which we never had less than two people visiting on any given day.
I make it sound all stressy and awful, but it wasn’t. It was pretty wonderful. And now that the holiday season is just starting up, we are looking forward to visits from our family and friends, and thinking about things to fix for them outside of turkey and its accomplices.
We plan to be fixing this recipe a lot in coming days. These pancakes are delicate and elegant in taste and texture, and they are also very polite, flattering all sorts of delicious accompaniments. After I had a serving with the sautéed pears, I had one more pancake with raspberry jam, and that was wonderful. Any fruit preserve would do marvelously with these; so would any fruit compote, or fresh berries, or sautéed apples or peaches, or beautiful juicy chunks of peeled orange with a bit of dark chocolate grated over all – in fact, the latter, with a drifting bit of whipped cream, could be dessert.
These pancakes are leavened with beaten egg white, not baking soda, meaning that the characteristic baking-soda-pancake taste won’t be in evidence.
This dish also generates a lot of bowls. Not Thanksgiving dinner-level, but don’t freak out when you keep seeing me calling for more and more bowls.
Ricotta Pancakes with Sautéed Pears
Makes 15 to 20 small pancakes
For the pancakes:
3/4 cup flour
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs, brought to room temperature and separated
1-1/4 cups ricotta
3/4 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon salt plus a pinch of salt
2 tablespoons lemon zest, divided in two
Cooking oil for the sauté pan
For the pears:
Four to six ripe pears – more is better
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Make the pears. Core and peel the ripe fruit. Cut into small slices and put the slices into a bowl. Toss with a tablespoon of lemon juice.
In a nonstick sauté pan, melt the butter and spread it around the pan. Slide in the pears, one flat side down, in a single layer, and let them sauté for about two or three minutes on each side. Turn. If the sautéed side isn’t nicely golden brown, sauté on that side some more. When the pear slices are golden brown, they are ready to served. If the pancakes are not ready yet, hold in the sauté pan.
Make the pancakes. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar and 1/8 tsp salt using a fork. Set aside.
Separate the eggs one at a time, putting the yolk into one small dish and the white into another. Check them for freshness, then put each yolk into a large bowl and each white into a medium bowl. If you have an unlined copper bowl, use that for the whites (see Kitchen Notes).
Add the ricotta to the yolks in the large bowl and mix them together, using a whisk. Beat for about 45 seconds, until they are all blended together and fluffy. Gradually stir in the flour mixture, working lightly, and then 1 tablespoon of lemon zest. Set the bowl of batter aside.
Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites. Then, using an electric hand mixer, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
Drop about 20 percent of the beaten egg whites atop the batter and gently stir. Then, working in small batches, fold the rest of the egg whites into the batter. When everything is incorporated together evenly, start heating the sauté pan over a medium flame, add in a bit of oil, and get your plates ready. Also place a heatproof plate in a warm oven, to hold the cooked pancakes.
When the pan appears hot enough, cook one sample pancake to see if the pan is ready. If that pancake looks all right, then proceed. Cook the pancakes in batches of three or four. Hold the cooked ones on the prewarmed plate in the oven, under a foil tent.
When everything is ready, plate them, top with a heap of the sautéed pears and a scattering of the remaining lemon zest, and serve.
Breaking up. I still open eggs the way my mother did: Crack an egg over a little dish and let the white fall into the dish, then put the yolk into another, then eyeball them both for any signs of decrepitude. Then move each into its own other bowl, and do the same thing for the next egg. Wherever you get your eggs – from Walgreen’s for 89 cents or from the farmer’s market for $5 (or from your own yard), and even if you don’t separate egg from white, this is something you should do whenever you are cracking open an egg.
Beating up. Copper bowls produce better beaten whites. The copper interacts with one of the proteins in the white, creating a more buoyant yet more stable foam. Make sure your bowl is absolutely clean and dry.
Oiling up. When cooking pancakes, don’t pour in all the cooking oil at once. Put in a few drops, then spread it around the hot pan with a folded paper towel. Then add your batter.
Changing up. Some variations of this on line also omit the sugar and lemon zest from the pancakes and serve as part of a savory – for instance, with ratatouille.
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