Saffron, Ricotta and Pea Pancakes {Gluten-Free}

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.

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Peas On Earth:

Potage St. Germain {Minted Pea and Lettuce Soup}
Pasta Alla Carbonara with Peas and Pea Shoots
Saffron Risotto with Spring Vegetable Ragout

Pancake Perfection:

Plow’s Ricotta Pancakes
Corn and Scallion Griddle Cakes
Berry-Peach Oven Pancake

One year ago:

Rum-Kissed Coconut Granola

Two years ago:

Gluten-Free Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble with Fresh Ginger Ice Cream

Three years ago:

Rhubarb Crumble Bars

Four years ago:

Hippie Crispie Treats

Saffron, Ricotta and Pea Pancakes {Gluten-Free}

Inspired by Plow’s Ricotta Pancakes and Ileana’s Ricotta Pea Pancakes

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)
8 ounces (about 1 cup) good-quality whole-milk ricotta (such as Bellwether Farm)
2 large eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons sweet rice flour
2 tablespoons millet flour
1-2 tablespoons chopped chives (optional)

To finish the cakes:
a few tablespoons of ghee, coconut oil, or light olive oil for frying
lemon wedges
good olive oil
flaky salt and black pepper
snipped chives

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.

48 thoughts on “Saffron, Ricotta and Pea Pancakes {Gluten-Free}”

  1. How lovely. I have a hard time getting behind most "brunches" too. I would much rather make my own brunch at home! These ricotta and pea pancakes look heavenly. Thank you for making me hungry for breakfast (despite it being 10pm!).

  2. Mmmm these look amazing Alanna!! I love brunch too, and have a similar problem to you as I'm vegetarian and usually the vegetarian options at brunch are either egg frittata and such (which I'm not a huge fan of) or completely uninteresting. These however, these little beauties would most definitely be welcome at my table!!

  3. Don't tell me you live on Potrero Hill, too!!!! :)
    I have always wanted to try Plow, but by the time I got there, the line was usually very long, and I ended up at Farley's instead.

    These looks amazing as ALWAYS; I always love your recipes & photos. I can't wait to try this, and to try Plow :)

    1. Are you my neighbor?! I used to work at Farley's! I love that place. I like to go there and read all the foodie magazines over a cup of chai. :) We try to get our Plow fix on weekdays, when it's slightly less crowded (but only slightly…). We should go sometime! Thanks so much for the kind words, Pang.

  4. I feel you on the lack of good brunch! I would kill for a real diner breakfast on Sunday morning, is all I'm saying. Lacking that, we go for the taqueria or the best Indian buffet in town. But! These pancakes sound like just about the best possible brunch at home. I love all those vegetables everywhere. And the salad! Salad is possibly the most underrated part of a good brunch.

  5. A non wilted salad and a glass of wine make me pretty happy too! I love, love, love these pancakes!! Breakfast/brunch food is one of my favorites, but I never seem to eat it, I guess I need to fix that! The colors are so beautiful and these look so light and fresh. Those peas look amazing, I've never seen ones that look so good in my grocery store. Also, I love me some Portlandia :)

  6. I am quite obsessed with brunch myself! These pancakes sound bomb. And I have fresh ricotta from my cheese CSA in the refrigerator right now! They would go awesome with the parsnip and garlic chive home fries i just wrote about. Brunch, check! xo

    1. You have a cheese CSA?! I'm jealous! Those homefries look and sound amazing – loving those photos. What time is brunch? I'll be right over.

  7. This looks so good. And funny thing I also wanted to make those the week before hawaii only without safran. I think I will give your recipe a try. :)

  8. I have exactly the same problem with most brunch/breakfast options as I try to avoid wheat and share your feelings about eggs – this sounds like an absolutely wonderful alternative, so bright and fresh. Beautiful!

  9. Savory pancakes—actually you don't see that often. I lusted after the fresh peas. I haven't seen any of those yet. On the other hand I haven't gone to our Farmer's market the last couple of weeks. That could be the reason. Ricotta anything and pancake anything is a winner. But these really take the (pan)cake. Lol

  10. These are fantastic! Such a perfect idea for a nice spring or summertime brunch! Love the combination of flavors, and the fact that it is already gluten free so I won't have to make any adjustments!

  11. Alanna! Definitely two peas in a pod and def the best movie of all time. :)

    What a sweet surprise and thanks for the shout out! xoxo Those fresh peas look amazing and so do the pancakes. I love the way ricotta makes them incredibly tender and the saffron lends them such a pretty color. We need to have a brunch date. Why is San Francisco so far from Tampa??

    1. That's what I'm wondering! Also, when I went to your site the other night to get the link, I had just pulled a very similar looking rhubarb crisp (complete with orange, oats and cardamom) out of my own oven, baked in an identical ceramic tart pan. How crazy is that?! :)

  12. As soon as I read the title of this in my Feedly, I was in love–and that's BEFORE seeing your stunning photos. You astound me, Alanna–this just sounds SO delicious.

  13. I have the exact same relationship with brunch! These pea pancakes are right up my alley – adding this to my next brunch menu. Such a unique combination of flavors that sound so yummy in one dish!

    1. Huh! I had the very same thought in my head. Was just looking for recipes for later but now feel like I need to go grocery shop and get started with some cooking!

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