LUCIOUS LEMON RICOTTA PANCAKES

This is the second recipe in which I used the Homemade Ricotta made per my recent joining of the From Scratch Club on GoodReads. We’re reading/cooking/baking from The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chernila, a book I highly recommend. My last blogpost, Comfort Pasta with Ricotta, Nutmeg and Peas was the other dish I conjured up, based on a recipe in a cookbook I’ve owned for years. Both were heaven to the tongue.

I found this recipe in a relatively new (to me) cookbook, Baking by Flavor by Lisa Yockelson (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2002), a volume awarded the IACP Cookbook Award in 2002, which I just learned is an honor given by the International Association of Culinary Professionals to “the authors, publishers, and other contributors behind the best of cookbooks published each year.” Because I love lemon-anything, it caught my attention immediately. As usual, I made a few changes to suit my needs, desires and tastes.

When the kids were growing up, pancakes weren’t on our everyday breakfast menu. It took time to make them, even from a box (and our box was Bisquick, which we found to be better than specifically-pancake/waffle mixes). Life was too hectic to get into time-consuming morning feasts like pancakes, eggs/omelets, French toast and other more elaborate first-thing-in-the-morning endeavors on weekdays. Those were weekend fare, so long as we weren’t driving children all over creation to too-early activities on a Saturday or Sunday! So pancakes were treats, and they remain so.

These Lemon Ricotta Pancakes surpass anything from those days. Bill and I scarfed them down over two days (fresh and heated-up leftovers), savoring every bite, knowing our son wouldn’t be interested anyway. He’d much rather make his own Bisquick batch whenever he feels like it. His loss.

Try ’em—you’ll love ’em.

LEMON RICOTTA PANCAKES FROM SCRATCH
Yield: supposedly, 27 pancakes – but ours were larger, for a smaller yield

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsifted, unbleached all-purpose flour (original recipe calls for bleached; I only buy unbleached)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • dash of nutmeg and/or cinnamon (totally my addition- totally optional)
  • ¾ cup whole-milk ricotta cheese (mine was homemade)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar (book calls for granulated; I use organic evaporated cane juice sugar – same texture as granulated)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest (lemon-love-me probably made that at “generous” teaspoonful!)
  • 2 large eggs, slightly beaten with a whisk (original recipe doesn’t call for whisked eggs; this is my move so the whisk part is optional)
  • ¾ cup milk (I used 2%, but whole is fine; buttermilk would also work to add more tang)
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to tepid
  • ½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
  • butter, for the grill (book calls for clarified butter, but I used regular unsalted)
  • fresh fruit, for topping (optional – my idea, not the cookbook author’s)
  • confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling on pancakes

Process

  1. Sift flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg (if using) and cinnamon (if using) into medium-sized bowl.
  2. Blend ricotta, sugar, lemon zest and eggs in small bowl, using wooden spoon or paddle.
  3. Blend milk, melted butter and lemon extract into ricotta mixture.
  4. Blend ricotta mixture into the sifted flour ingredients, stirring until it becomes an evenly textured batter (use wooden spoon or paddle). Batter will be moderately thick.
  5. Place 2-tablespoon scoops (or use a little more, if preferred) of batter onto a hot griddle greased with butter; cook for about 1 minute or until undersides are golden and bubbles appear on surface. Flip over with a spatula and continue cooking for about another minute (until golden brown on bottom).
  6. Serve with fresh fruit topping, if desired.
  7. Sift confectioners’ sugar atop pancakes (and fruit, if serving), also if desired. I can imagine whipped cream instead of the confectioners’ sugar – but only the real stuff, not what comes frozen in a plastic tub!

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COMFORT PASTA (WITH RICOTTA, NUTMEG & PEAS) – QUICK & EASY!

Most pasta – no matter what kind or how prepared – qualifies as comfort food for me. The old standard Macaroni and Cheese ranks #1 in my book, probably because it was a my mother’s dish my mother often served. She tossed together canned, diced tomatoes and American processed cheese – plus elbow macaroni and whole milk (no one even hear of 1% or 2% milk back then, and skim was too skimpy). That’s about it, except for salt, pepper and maybe a little garlic salt if she had it. It was always delicious. I make a sort-of version of hers about once a month, although with different (and alternating) cheeses, but I often hunger for something a little different.

Uncle Champ (Frank), Aunt Mary with cousin Mary; circa 1950.

Then there was Aunt Mary’s spaghetti and meatballs. It was a super-treat to get invited to Aunt Mary and Uncle Champ’s house for the ultimate Italian dinner back-in-the-day. After all, Aunt Mary’s parents were Italian immigrants from Puglia — this was a genuine recipe! Her meatballs became forever the ultimate high standard against which all meatballs were measured, at least as far as Mom was concerned. When the family (my brothers and I and our families) took her out for her 70th birthday to a celebrated Italian restaurant in Albany, allegedy the place where former Governor Mario Cuomo preferred to eat when doing Italian, she naturally order spaghetti with meatballs. Asked how the meatballs were, she replied, “They were pretty good.” Not great. Just pretty good.

Decades ago, my cousin Mary gave me her mother’s recipe but I tend to go off on my own where these things are concerned, so I’ve only made it a few times. It requires cooking at least overnight, until a chicken breast literally dissolves in the tomato richness. And there’s more than just meatballs involved—sausage comes into it as well. A lengthy project. Still, it holds such an honored place in my personal history that it even worked its way into a poem I wrote some years ago, which just posted on this blog’s Food for Thought: Getting Literate page, for your reading pleasure.

Dolly (Mom) out to dinner on 70th birthday, at head of table. 1997.

When Mom (Dolly) made spaghetti sauce it could be okay or it might be what I dubbed as her “cardboard sauce.” She’d give me a dirty look when I used that term, or would comment, “And how would you know what cardboard tastes like?” It was clear she was inferring that we ate pretty decently. Dad ran a tiny grocery store in the South End of Albany (he worked there for something like 14 years; later owned it –the business, not the building- for a few years before he became too disabled by a stroke to work). We often get leftovers where meats were concerned, the ones not sold to his customers, but there was always a decent roast on Sunday for dinner. And the Grand Union was less than a half-block away for items Dad didn’t sell or couldn’t tote home after work in a taxi.

In retrospect, I should’ve called that not-so-great sauce “Mom’s hurry-up” meal. Most likely, she just didn’t feel like cooking that night! Who wants to prepare an all-night affair, or even your own one-to-two-hour sauce, when there’s an easy way out- especially when you can get invited for The Real Deal and walk just a few blocks to consume it with lots of family?

Seems natural that I’d look for an easy-to-prep pasta dish for some of the homemade ricotta I’d made (see previous blogpost, dated October 4, 2012). I checked out a fav cookbook that’s been on my shelf for years, The Best 125 Meatless Pasta Dishes by Minday Toomay and Susann Geiskopf-Hadler (Prima Publishing, 1992), and found Ricotta with Nutmeg and Peas. Nutmeg being a favorite spice of mine, plus knowing it goes great with cheese of almost any kind, it was no contest about this selection.

The dish went over big with both Bill and Adrian. I loved it and will make it again. Of course, I made it my own with a few changes (which are noted) – the big one, of course, being that I used my homemade ricotta, made with whole milk.

Comfort Past (with Ricotta, Nutmeg and Peas)
Yields 4-5 servings

Ingredient

  • 15 oz. homemade whole-milk ricotta (or store-bought part-skim), at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
    …with homemade ricotta!
  • 1 to 1 ½ cups peas (frozen or fresh – I used frozen)
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated preferred (but ok to use jarred)
  • a dash of cinnamon (optional, my addition- not in original recipe)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (I use sea salt, but table salt ok)
  • a few twists of the pepper grinder, to taste
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 12-14 ounces dried pasta (recipe said 12 ounces but I knew I could stretch it!; recipe also recommended small tubes or spirals but I used angel hair, our favorite, and it was great)
  • additional Parmesan and nutmeg, as needed and/or desired

Note: it’s important that ingredients be at room temperature, since nothing except the pasta will be heated!

Process

  1. Cook the pasta to al dente in a pot of several quarts of boiling water, adding the peas for the final two minutes. (In Italian, “al dente” means “to the tooth” which suggests that the tooth should meet a little resistance when it meets the noodle. The packaging for your pasta should give you guidelines for how long that particular pasta takes to make it to this stage.)
  2. Meanwhile, mash ricotta and butter in a large bowl, along with nutmeg, cinnamon (if using), salt and pepper.
  3. Set the bowl in warm spot on the stove while waiting for pasta and peas to cook.
  4. Drain the pasta and peas, allowing a bit of water to remain with the noodles and veggies.
  5. Toss the ricotta mix with the Parmesan in the warm bowl.
  6. Add the pasta and peas to bowl with ricotta/Parmesan mixture, and mix it all together using tongs or a forks.
  7. Serve (on warmed plates, if you like) sprinkled with additional Parmesan and a little nutmeg, if desired.

RICOTTA FROM SCRATCH – OR, LITTLE MISS MUFFET HAD NOTHIN’ ON ME (WHO KNEW MAKING RICOTTA MEANS SEPARATING CURDS & WHEY!?)

In yesterday’s post, I talked a bit about the From Scratch Club (http://fromscratchclub.com/) that I discovered while Bill and I wandered about Honest Weight Co-Op’s fall festival (http://www.hwfc.com/). Almost as soon as we got home from the harvest fest, I joined GoodReads (http://www.goodreads.com/), clicked “Groups” heading at the top of the page, found FSC Book Club, and clicked. Bingo! Just in time to participate in their second book challenge, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making by Alana Chernila (Clarkson Potter Publishers, imprint of Crown Publishing, division of Random House, 2012). Today’s blogpost is about my meeting the first challenge. In fact, blogging about it goes along with part of the assignment!

Participants in the FSC Book Club are challenged every other Monday to read a portion of The Book and then to complete at least one or two tasks. Always, they’re asked to make at least one of the recipes from the chapters, and then something else – such as inviting someone over to share your cooking/baking, or posting a picture of your product. On September 24th, we were directed (gently – there’s no pressure to do any of this) to read the first two chapters of Homemade Pantry (“Dairy” and “Cereals & Snacks”) and to make at least one recipe from either (or both) of them. In addition, we’re to take a photo of the finished product “in action.” We’re to upload pictures to the Group’s page and perhaps also to Facebook (Guess I’ll create a separate album for FSC food pics) and Twitter (not sure if I’ll bother with this one—I don’t Tweet very often). As I said yesterday, my choice was Ricotta from Chapter 1 (Dairy).

I putzed around for a few days with one excuse or another not to get to it. Good excuses: (1) not enough time in a solid block to concentrate on doing something so new (heaven forbid I should screw it up!); (2) had to get better equipment (after all, none of my bowls were deep enough to easily use my chinois [a/k/a huge, upside-down, cone-shaped, very fine sieve]); (3) thought I had all the ingredients but didn’t (oops! when I shopped, didn’t buy lemons – and then realized those two citrus fruits in the green bag in the frig were oranges).

When things settled down time-wise, and I’d bought a deep, wide-mouthed, glass canister, and a trip to the grocery included purchase of several lemons – well, it became clear that Excuse #4 was the one that truly held sway: despite the apparent ease of ricotta creation per the author’s recipe, I was nervous about attempting it. (I’m not Italian so how could I even think I can make this? Hell, growing up we never had ricotta in the house, I mean NEVER. My mother was in her 40s before she even tasted lasagna. And watching that temperature and timing it- OMG, I’ve owned one of those “attach-to-the-pot” thermometers for a few years and it had never been taken out of the package. Then too, why would I want to make it when I could buy decent ricotta?) So the only thing to do, finally, was to Just Do It.

It turned out heavenly. Once refrigerated, the texture (curds) was firmer, less creamy than the store-bought stuff but it tasted so much better. Just a hint of the lemon sneaks through when it hits the tongue (which made me wonder, once I went to the author’s blog to ferret out a link for folks to find Chernila’s recipe, about versions that use vinegar instead of fresh lemon juice). I saved the whey (liquid that dripped through the chinois) and used it in the pasta water for the Ricotta with Nutmeg and Peas that I made the same night and yesterday in the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes (topped with confectioners sugar and fresh, raw-sugared berries) we had for dessert. There’s still a little of the liquid left, which will go into a creamy soup tonight or tomorrow.

All in all, a terrific experience. Before posting the pictures (which will make up the remainder of this blog entry), here are links to author Alana Chernila’s two ricotta recipes: http://www.eatingfromthegroundup.com/2009/05/curds-and-whey/ and http://www.eatingfromthegroundup.com/2009/12/ricotta-again/. Her Homemade Pantry version indicates you could simply use a half-gallon of whole milk and fresh lemon juice, with the option of adding heavy cream and/or salt as well (I took both options). On her site, the “Ricotta, again” post comes closest to the book’s recipe (it lists both the cream and the salt, but not as options).

My batch made about 1½ cups of the stuff, as the author promised.

As the expression goes:  Try it – you’ll like it!