I spent my teenaged years at an LA high school which specialized in performing arts. Though some of my classmates already had agents, I dreamed of becoming a musical theater star, and dutifully attended audition after audition. At some point during my junior year, (and after failing to land any roles outside of the chorus) I smartened up and began taking art classes instead.
Mr. Osbaldeston was Hamilton High’s art teacher, but everyone called him Mr. O. Though short in stature, he was not short on opinions, and gladly shared them with you, whether you asked or not.
Mr. O taught us how to frame a photograph, the difference between ‘erotic’ and ‘pornographic’ (eye contact, he said), and everything we ever wanted to know about modern art. We adored him.
One day, my friends and I took a trip down to Eagle Rock where Mr. O lived. I can’t recall whether he knew we were coming or not, but I do remember the sour look on his wife’s face when she saw our simpering, 18-year-old selves at the door. Mr. O gave us a tour of the house, beginning with the entryway which was decoed in all black and white. The living room was black and white with one red couch cushion, and the rooms progressively gained more and more color, culminating in the bedroom, which was done up, floor to ceiling, in what Mr. O informed us was not pink but fuchsia. ‘Fuchsia is in the purple family,’ he told us.
The purpose of our trip was to make Mr. O (and, reluctantly, his wife) breakfast. We brought potatoes to cook into homefries and a batch of blueberry pancake batter. Mr. O had a griddle built into his stove and as he heated it, I said that I’d thought griddles were old-fashioned and that nobody actually used them. Mr. O informed me that griddles were not only ‘so now,’ but they also cooked one’s pancakes perfectly. Indeed, those were the handsomest pancakes I’d ever made. Even Mrs. O ate some.
I think of Mr. O every time I make pancakes. Though I love my cast iron skillets (well, actually, they’re Jay’s) for making just about anything, they are not the ideal shape for cooking pancakes, which unfailingly droop toward the center, and burn on the inside edge while remaining pale on the outer.
Though these pancakes may not be as picture perfect as Mr. O might like, I think he would overlook their appearance once he took a bite.
The recipe comes from Plow, a restaurant in my ‘hood, Potrero Hill, that serves up exquisite breakfasts and lunches six days a week (closed Mondays). The owners, Joel and Maxine, also own a fabulous wine shop, Ruby, named for their precocious daughter, a block away. I’ve known the family since I worked at Farley’s coffee shop six years ago, and am thrilled that their new business has proven a well-deserved instant success with a cult-like following. Plow is packed every weekday, and, come the weekend, boasts a line down the block.
Plow’s decor is minimal – white, wood and metal – and every detail attended to, from the camellia blossoms iced tea to the white linen napkins. Mr O. would approve. The frequently-changing menu, which Mr. O would also approve of, manages to be both old-fashioned and ‘so now,’ with items such as a fried egg sandwich served with the crispiest potatoes ever, french toast with berries and mascarpone, and fluffy pillows of ricotta pancake love.
After a bite of said pancake, I was smitten. I had to have more. I emailed the owner, Maxine, who I’ve seen hard at work in Plow’s busy kitchen every time I’ve been in, to ask if she would be willing to share the recipe. I waited to hear back (patiently!) for a week. Then another. Then I turned to the blogging goddess of all things yummy, Deb of Smitten Kitchen, and gave her ricotta pancakes recipe a whirl. These pancakes tasted similar to plow’s, but I tweaked the flavorings a couple of times until I thought they were fairly close.
I ate a lot of ricotta pancakes that week.
Then one night just before bed I opened my laptop to see an email from Maxine with the much awaited recipe. I awoke the next morning wondering if I had dreamed it, but no, the recipe was there in my inbox.
Plow’s recipe is similar to Deb’s, but differs in that it contains vanilla, a generous amount of melted butter and more flour. I made Plow’s pancakes right away, and noted that they are a bit more hefty and chewy, closer in texture to ‘normal’ pancakes than Deb’s, which are a bit more light and delicate.
Both are excellent, so I’ve provided Plow’s recipe below, with the butter-free variation following.
Mr. O, if you’re out there, thank you for teaching me everything I know about photography. And if you (and your wife) are ever in San Francisco, please come by for pancakes. Maybe I’ll even smarten up and get a griddle.
Plow’s Ricotta Pancakes
Makes sixteen 3″ pancakes, or 4 servings
These pancakes are both tender and hearty. For a more delicate pancake, and a gluten-free option, see the variation, below. Choose a good-quality ricotta here, preferably one free of gums or stabilizers, such as Bel Fiore, Calabro or Bellweather, or make your own. If your ricotta is very wet, drain it in a strainer for 10 minutes or so before proceeding with the recipe. These pancakes go with almost any fruit, compote or preserve; serve them with strawberry-rhubarb compote or fresh berries in the spring, peaches in the summer, sauteed apples or pears in the fall, or poached quince in winter.
3/4 pound (1 1/3 cups) good-quality or homemade ricotta cheese (see headnote)
4 large eggs, separated
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 ounces (6 tablespoons/ 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more butter for the pan
1 cup flour
In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg yolks, lemon zest, vanilla, salt and sugar. Stir in the melted butter and flour until just combined.
In another large bowl with a clean whisk, beat the eggs whites until they hold firm peaks. Stir 1/4 of the whipped whites into the ricotta mixture, then fold in the rest of the whites.
Melt a pat of butter on a griddle or in a large skillet over medium heat, and when the pan is hot, drop blobs of batter (I use a very heaping soupspoon, about 1/4 cup) onto the pan. Cook until they look slightly dry around the top edges, and are golden brown on the bottom, 1 – 2 minutes, then flip and cook on the second side, another couple of minutes. Place the pancakes on a platter in a 200ºF oven to keep them warm while you cook the rest of the pancakes, adding a small pat of butter to coat the bottom of the pan between batches.
Serve the pancakes with fresh berries (or other seasonal fruit – see headnote) and maple syrup.
Extra pancakes reheat beautifully after being refrigerated; toast them in a pan or in a warm oven until heated through.
Variation: Delicate Ricotta Pancakes (optionally gluten-free): Adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen, no butter, less flour and more sugar produce a lighter, more delicate pancake. (These can be made gluten-free by subbing sweet white rice flour for the all-purpose. The texture will be a bit softer.)
Omit the melted butter from the recipe, reduce the flour to 1/2 cup, increase the sugar to 3 tablespoons and increase the lemon zest to that of 1 1/2 lemons.