Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Polenta Pancakes

I could go on and on about polenta pancakes. The slight crunch of golden toasted cornmeal on the outside. The creamy sweetness of yellow polenta on the inside. The all-consuming desire to track them down at a local breakfast place. The slightly deranged look on my face when I announced, after getting home from a disheartening encounter with an inexcusably dry and mealy "corn pancake" at a restaurant whose name I have blocked out of my memory due to the trauma of unmet expectations, that FINE then, fine, you know what? We'll just learn how to make them ourselves. What do you say to THAT? (The restaurant, by now severely out of earshot, did not in fact reply. But we showed it. Oh yes.)

Admittedly, our first attempt was dry and mealy. So I can commiserate, I suppose, with the forgotten restaurant's corn-based difficulties (but seriously, shouldn't they have tried more than once before putting it on their menu?). Our second attempt, adapted from this recipe in the New York Times, yielded a true polenta pancake in all its glorious perfection.

1 cup coarse-ground corn meal
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/3 cups boiling water
1/2 tbsp chickpea flour
1 1/2 tbsp whole wheat flour (plus extra if needed)
Olive oil (yes, extra virgin as always)
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
a scant 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Mix the cornmeal and salt in a medium bowl and add the boiling water. Whisk immediately to combine and let sit for 10 minutes to allow the cornmeal to soften and absorb most of the water. Stir in the flours halfway through.

Slowly stir in the milk with a wooden spoon until the batter is "spreadable but still thick," as it says in the original recipe. (You can add another 1/2 tbsp whole wheat flour if needed to keep it from getting too thin.) Stir in 2 tbsp olive oil, the vanilla, and the toasted pine nuts.

Heat a nonstick skillet or frying pan over medium heat. When very hot, brush quickly with olive oil (you want a thin layer along the bottom) and then pour in the batter in 1/4 or 1/3 cup scoops. The scoops should spread out slowly in the pan -- if they don't spread, add a tbsp more milk to the remaining batter, and if they spread out quickly and get too thin, add a little more flour.

Cook for 2-3 minutes until the edges look dry and the bottoms have turned a lovely medium golden brown. Flip carefully, and cook another couple minutes until both sides are golden. Keep the pancakes warm as you cook the next batch (either on a plate on the stove under foil or in the oven). Try not to stack the pancakes too high on the plate, since they'll start to stick together.

Serve with a little butter and maple syrup, or raspberry jam, or blackberries, or whatever else strikes your fancy over the top.

Serves 2-3.