I have a bit of a brunch problem. I’m not talking about a Portlandia-style fixation, though brunch places in SF do tend to attract similar cult-like followings. Rather, and at the risk of sounding like a petulant and spoiled brat, I have trouble finding a brunch out and about that I can really get behind.
Many brunch offerings are flour-heavy (french toast, pancakes, waffles, sandwiches) and wheat doesn’t always agree with me. I’m also somewhat picky about eggs, preferring them in things rather than featured in an omelette or frittata. That usually leaves me with salad, often the red-headed step-child of brunch menus, haphazardly thrown together with wilted greens and insipid dressing.
Luckily, we live mere blocks from Plow, Mecca for brunch-seeking San Franciscans and boasting a varied, seasonal menu of everything from chia seed pudding to savory oats, crispy potatoes, and their signature ricotta pancakes.
I’ve known the owners, Joel and Maxine, for years, and they were kind enough to share their ricotta pancake recipe with me a while back. My gluten-free version is a favorite around these parts, especially topped with fresh fruit and maple syrup.
At a recent dinner, I got the notion to turn those cakes savory by adding fresh peas and saffron to the mix. My dining companion Amelia suggested I saute a bit of shallot as well. I added lemon zest, chives, and Parmesan for extra flavor. The result? A new brunch-time favorite – little puffs of cheesy pancake love redolent with the beguiling flavors of saffron, sweet peas, and lemon against creamy ricotta. A drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil plus a few pinches of flaky salt and cracked black pepper bring these little guys to life. Give me a non-wilted side salad and a glass of wine, and I’m happy.
Bellwether’s basket-dipped, whole-milk ricotta is good enough to eat plain. It comes in 12-ounce containers, but I can never stop myself from dipping into it with a spoon, thus a pancake recipe that only uses 8 ounces. I’m powerless in the face of good cheese. Lillie at Butter Me Up, Brooklyn! just posted a recipe with great step-by-step images for homemade ricotta that I’m eager to try next time.
As I wrote up this post, I wondered whether ricotta pea pancakes had
been made by other pea-lovers, and I was pleased to find a lovely article by my
friend Ileana of A Little Saffron Would Make This! in the Tampa Bay Times. Her version
looks exquisite, and I love that her blog’s title references
Ratatouille, the greatest movie of all time. Clearly we are two peas in a
pod when it comes to delicious food (and animated rodents). Indeed a little saffron made these pancakes.
Wishing everyone an enjoyable last few weeks of spring full of lovely and satisfying brunches.
These cakes are all about the ricotta, so do get the good stuff (or make your own). Bellwether’s basket-dipped whole milk ricotta is so good, I eat it by the spoonful. If gluten isn’t an issue for you and your guests, feel free to use all-purpose flour in place of the sweet rice and millet. I’m guessing that any gluten-free all-purpose blend will work, too. A squeeze of lemon on these cakes really makes them pop. To minimize sticking when cooking the cakes, make sure the pan and oil are hot before adding the pancake batter, let the bottom get well-bronzed before flipping, and use a thin, metal spatula to turn the cakes. The batter can be made up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated; cooked cakes also reheat well.
Makes about 12 (3-inch) pancakes (about 3 servings)
For the pancakes:
2 small shallots, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon loosely packed saffron threads
1 cup shelled peas (from about 1 1/4 pounds English peas)
a few tablespoons of ghee, coconut oil, or light olive oil for frying
good olive oil
flaky salt and black pepper
Make the batter:
In a wide skillet, heat the olive oil over a medium flame until it shimmers. Add the diced shallot, and crumble in the saffron threads. Cook, stirring frequently, until the shallot is tender, 5 minutes. Add the peas and cook, stirring occasionally, until bright green, 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, combine the ricotta, egg yolks, salt, Parmesan, lemon zest, and the sweet rice and millet flours in a large bowl, and stir to combine. Gently stir in the shallot/pea mixture and the chives until combined.
In a medium bowl with a balloon whisk (or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment) whip the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Stir 1/3 of the whipped whites into the batter to loosen it up, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites until just combined.
Cook the cakes:
Heat a wide skillet over a medium flame and add enough of the cooking oil of your choice (I like ghee the best) to coat the bottom. When the oil shimmers, drop two or three 1/4-cup scoops of batter into the pan, spacing them well apart (a spring-loaded ice cream scoop works well for this). Cook until the first side is golden, 2-3 minutes, then flip and cook on the second side until golden and cooked through, about 2 minutes. Remove to a platter. (Optionally, place in a warm oven while you cook the rest). Repeat with the remaining batter.
Serve the cakes topped with a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of olive oil, and sprinkle of flaky salt, black pepper, and snipped chives. Extras can be chilled and re-heated in a skillet.