CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's sneaking up on us again. Lent and its association of culinary parsimony begins Wednesday, the day before Valentine's Day, which is unfortunate timing for anyone who gives up chocolate for Lent.
Mardi Gras decadence and celebration are commonly associated with the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday as a way to indulge before the quiet austerity of Lent, but pancakes also make a frequent appearance on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent's beginning.
The humble pancake may not seem like a celebration food today, but the tradition started because they were a good way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk and sugar before the 40 days of fasting that many people used to observe during this period.
In some cultures and faiths, people refrain from foods that give pleasure, such as meat, dairy and eggs.
Whatever your beliefs, Shrove Tuesday is a good excuse to eat pancakes. A rich recipe from the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council that follows definitely doesn't skimp on dairy and eggs. The batter for Lemon and Ricotta Blueberry Pancakes includes egg yolks, butter, cheese and whipped egg whites to produce fluffy, decadent pancakes.
A Culinary SOS column reader recently requested a recipe for "the best pancakes of my life" from Clinton Street Baking Co. in New York City. In the column, which frequently runs in the Sunday Gazette-Mail, the author tracks down requested restaurant recipes for readers.
The restaurant shared the recipe, which has rich flavor, but a light texture due to whipped egg whites. The pancakes are stuffed with fruit and nuts and served with either blueberries or bananas dusted with sugar.
Delicate crepes offer a lighter pancake experience. Don't be intimidated by the French association with these light, tender cousins of pancakes. A recipe by Alton Brown, below, received nearly unanimous rave reviews with readers. Some readers said they shortened the time in the refrigerator, a crucial step for removing bubbles from the batter, and lightly tapped the batter container on the kitchen counter instead to release the bubbles.
The versatile crepe makes a sweet dessert or savory meal, depending on the filling.
Make a healthy crepe filled with spinach or baby mixed green salads that wilt when warmed in crepe with goat cheese, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, and purple onion drizzled with Mediterranean dressing. Other popular savory fillings are chopped ham and cheese, chicken and mushrooms in a creamy sauce, smoked salmon or crabmeat, eggs and omelet filling combinations. Basically, you can wrap a crepe around leftovers and call it dinner.
Spread Nutella and slice some fruit over crepes for a simple sweet filling. Whipped cream, ice cream, hazelnuts, almonds, berries, pineapple, peaches, jams and bananas make wonderful fillings, topped with a sprinkle of powdered sugar or a drizzle of chocolate or caramel sauce.
Whether your preference is a hearty stack of pancakes or a delicate crepe, Shrove Tuesday is the perfect time to indulge.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.
Lemon and Ricotta Blueberry Pancakes
Yield: 6 portions (24 pancakes)
11/2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese or drained small-curd cottage cheese
1/4 cup butter, melted
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel (yellow part only)
8 egg whites
2 cups fresh blueberries
COMBINE ricotta, butter and egg yolks in a medium-sized bowl, until blended. In a small bowl, stir together flour, sugar and lemon peel. Stir dry ingredients into ricotta mixture.
BEAT egg whites in a medium-sized bowl, until they form soft peaks. Fold egg whites and then blueberries into batter. Over medium heat, form cakes by spooning 1/4 cup of batter per pancake onto a hot lightly greased griddle or skillet. Cook cakes, turning once, until browned, about 4 minutes.
Recipe courtesy of Little Blue Dynamos, http://www.littlebluedynamos.com.Neil's Pancakes from Clinton Street
Servings: About 10 (3-inch) pancakes
2 cups (8.5 ounces) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar