An English friend rang up last Tuesday and said “do you know what day it is today?” “International women’s day,” I said. “Oh,” she said, “what’s that? No no no, it’s pancake day.”
I hadn’t thought of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday for years, not since C was little. I hadn’t even given much thought to its Italian equivalent – martedì grasso, the culmination of Carnevale – now that I no longer have a small child to squeeze into fancy dress and process around the streets, showering confetti in what must be every rubbish-collector’s most nightmarish few days.
“But I’ve sprained my wrist and I can’t even pick up a frying pan,” my friend continued. Then came a magnificently dramatically pregnant pause. “Oh,” I said finally. “You’d better come over and I’ll make you one.”
I took a look around various sources, checked what I had in the fridge, crossed my fingers and came up – more by great good luck rather than by skill I admit – with a batter which really worked. Of course, leaving the mix standing for a while – most recipe-writers say half an hour at least but mine stood for almost two hours – seems to help. And cooking them in a ceramic-lined frying pan was, I think, a determining factor: even the first crepe turned out thin and crispy round the edges, rather than the traditional Shrove Tuesday lump of gooey mess. A first, I think.
Plain flour – 150 g
Semi-skimmed milk – 150 ml
Eggs – 1 whole and one yolk
Water – 2 tbsp
Butter – for frying
Place the flour in a mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Beat the whole egg and the yolk together, and pour it into the well. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to the milk and pour a little into the the well with the egg, then begin drawing in the flour gently, adding milk as necessary and beating thoroughly to form a smooth paste, adding air and removing lumps. Gradually whisk in the rest of the milk until the mixture is the consistency of thick-ish pouring cream. This may use all the milk. Or you may require more than 150 ml. There’s no need to make it too runny at this point because you can add more later. Now leave the batter in the fridge for half an hour or more.
I don’t like butter, and I don’t like things cooked in butter but pancakes are the exception. Put a tiny lump in your frying pan (one with smooth rather than angular corners is, obviously, easier for manipulating the pancake), wait until the butter is sizzling slightly but not burnt, then pour a little of the mix (I find about half a soup ladle thinly covers the base of my 26cm pan) and tilt the pan back and forth until the mixture covers the bottom. How thick the pancake should be is a matter of personal taste: I like mine very thin, and found I had to whisk a little more milk into the batter at this point to get the required consistency. Flip when the crepe is lightly browned underneath. I made 12 pancakes with these quantities.
Now, how to eat them? I opted to do two per person wrapped around a mixture of sheep’s milk ricotta, a dash of milk and finely sliced rings of big sweet green olives, their pits removed. Over the top of this I poured a reduction of my tomato passata: I heated a little olive oil in a pot, cooked one finely minced garlic clove in it, poured in half a litre of passata and bubbled it down until it was a thick sauce. I poured this over the pancake rolls in a serving dish and heated the lot.
The other six I served straight to the table, where I’d placed an enticing array of home-made jams and preserves. What did we all do? Squeezed some lemon over them, sprinkled on some crunchy brown sugar, and ate them like that, wondering through mouthfuls why on earth we Brits restrict pancake consumption to just one day of the year.
© Anne Hanley, 2011.