Pancakes don’t have to only be enjoyed on Shrove Tuesday. I save any spare batter for the next day, and continue the pancake feast into Ash Wednesday!
The versatility of the humble pancake is greatly under appreciated. For that one Tuesday a year, most people greedily spread Nutella, squeeze maple syrup, or sprinkle sugar across those crisp little circles. But they can be used for so much more! As a base ingredient, they are incredibly useful. Pancakes are essentially flavourless until you add the filling: it really is ‘what is on the inside that counts’! Although shop bought pancakes tend to add sugar for a sweet taste, pancakes that are homemade are generally plainer (as they I think they should be!). Because of this, you can create both sweet and savoury dishes. Forget chocolate and fresh fruit; think peppers, onions, tomatoes.
This recipe uses delicious Italian vegetables, like a pasta sauce. But the possibilities are endless! Chorizo and parmesan, smoky fish in a creamy sauce, garlicky mushrooms with cheese, ham and cheese, roast tomatoes, spinach and ricotta….
½ packet of ready-to-eat Puy lentils (made by Merchant) OR 200g of Cannellini beans, drained
½ jar passata, or homemade tomato sauce
IF USING PASSATA: ½ tbsp of balsamic vinegar
Oregano, to taste
Cheese, to taste
Remove leftover batter from the fridge. Melt butter in a large frying pan, ensuring that it is very hot! The pan must be hot before adding any butter.
Add a small amount of batter to the middle of the pan. Turning the pan in a clockwise movement, spread the batter across its surface to cover the bottom of the pan. The batter should be in a circular ‘pancake’ shape. It should not be thick, but a thin like a French crepe. If needed, add more batter to ensure it can reach across the pan!
Tease the outer rim of the pancake away from the edge of the pan using a spatula, running it around the circumference of the pancake.
After 2-4 minutes, cook the other side of the pancake. If you’re brave, flip it! OR, wiggle the spatula under the pancake until you reach the middle, then lift slightly and turn it over. Cook the other side for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to a roasting tin. Repeat until you have 3-4 pancakes.
Then, in the same saucepan, heat a little oil. Fry the diced onion until soft, then add the red pepper. Sautee for 5 minutes, before adding the courgette and Puy lentils. If using the homemade tomato sauce, add and reduce to a simmer to warm through. If using a shop-bought jar, add and pour in the Balsamic vinegar. Reduce to a simmer.
In the roasting tin, lay the pancakes flat. Place a spoonful of the tomato mixture in the middle of the pancake. Spread into a vertical line, so the mixture looks as if it is ‘dividing’ the pancake in two.
Roll one side of the pancake tightly over to the middle, and then bring the other side over the top. It should now be rolled up with the mixture inside. If you place the ‘fold’ of the pancake (where the two sides meet) face down in the roasting tin, it will prevent it coming open during cooking! Do this by turning the rolled pancake over altogether.
Repeat for all of the pancakes, before sprinkling with cheese. Place into a hot oven to bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is golden brown. Serve with salad, and enjoy!
This recipe comes partly as a celebration of the return of the oven after our last one failed to muster any warmth, and partly as the result of a conversation about the ‘best way to cook salmon’. After eating a particularly unappetising microwaveable macaroni cheese a few days ago in lieu of using the oven, I decided the moment that the new one was installed I would use it wholly. Nothing shows how wonderful an oven is like pastry – golden, puffed up pastry with a delicious, bubbling filling waiting underneath. These salmon and leek parcels are just that, their buttery pastry keeping moist salmon entwined with soft leek ribbons under wraps. As a development of the traditional salmon baked in foil, these little parcels are just as simple to cook as their predecessor, but result in a more exciting variation on the humble original.
I decided to experiment, making two variations of the parcel, to ensure all avenues of development had been visited! The first parcel focussed on the taste of the fish – lightly seasoned, with some butter to act as a sauce and give moisture to the parcel. The second was without butter, sprinkled with flat-leaf parsley, a herb often used as a complement to fish. Both were cooked for 20 minutes in a hot oven, and then were tasted to decide which recipe was the best improvement on foil baking. The salmon of the second parcel was drier than the first – whilst puff-pastry has an already notable fat content, sometimes comprising ‘all-butter’, it was not sufficient to keep the salmon moist in the oven. Using a small knob of butter created the delicious liquid that accompanies fish when foil-baked, without causing the pastry to go soggy. Plus, the light seasoning of the first parcel meant that the flavour of the fish was not overpowered by other ingredients, as it arguably was in the second – the flat leaf parsley gave a richness that wasn’t necessary with the pastry, and didn’t pair well with the leeks. Salt and pepper brought out the natural flavours of both ingredients, rather than attempting to create another dimension of taste that wasn’t required! The recipe listed below is for the first parcel – the simplicity of the ingredients mean the flavour of the salmon is at the forefront, with a buttery sauce lending moistness to the fish and leeks. Served with some peas, or a light salad, the parcels are not more complex to produce than using foil, and show a new aspect of a much-loved dish!
1 salmon fillet, skinned and sliced into thin strips
½ large leek, sliced diagonally into 1cm thick chunks
1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry, sliced evenly into quarters
A knob of butter
Salt and pepper
Olive oil, to drizzle
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Boil the kettle, and use the boiling water to blanche the sliced leeks for 5 minutes, until slightly softened. Drain the leeks, and set aside for later.
On a clean surface, lay out two of the squares of puff pastry. In a bowl, place the salmon strips, and add the leek. Stir gently to combine.
Divide the leek and salmon mixture evenly between the two squares of puff pastry. Season, and top each with a generous knob of butter.
Gather the corners of the pastry square, and pull towards the middle until a ‘bun’ shape is created. Scrunch up and down the joins to prevent it falling apart in the oven!
Place onto a non-stick baking sheet, and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes, until the pastry is golden. Remove, and serve immediately to prevent them going soggy!
I would really encourage everyone, where possible, to get hold of the new River Cottage book, ‘Veg Everyday’. Even look up a few recipes online! As the introduction rightly points out, the aim of the book is not to convert ‘carnivores’, but to persuade everybody into indulging in a little less meat for food sustainability. The reasons put across are sound and well explained, making even the most fierce meat eater (such as my boyfriend, who lives on a farm) recognise the need to perhaps reduce their weekly intake of animal. The book aspires to refocus the mind – deterring the popular assumption that a meal is not a meal without meat. Instead of providing recipes that have an evident replacement for meat, for example a vegetarian lasagne substituing mince with Quorn, River Cottage presents an array of simple, colourful and great tasting recipes that are undeniably delicious. The brilliance of the book’s intentions is its ability to show that dishes that taste good and are healthy are not missing anything, because they are tasty and healthy; the criteria for enjoying food, regardless of whether they have meat or not.
This way of thinking is excellently demonstrated by the chili recipe – though not using a clear and definite substitute for the meat, the flavours, colours and textures of the dish show that you don’t need to, and will probably forget to, yearn for meat when something tastes as good as this! The flavour of the dish does not fall flat without mince. River Cottage manages to create a wholesome taste, by building layer upon layer of flavour, using a variety of spices, and a combination of both fresh and dried. This creates an overall impression of warmth from the chilis, fragrance from the garlic and cumin, with elements of richness from both the tomatoes and wine, dispelling the common myth that vegan food is tasteless. Allowing these flavours to simmer over a low heat gives them time to infuse together, resulting in a flavoursome sauce that combines each element of taste instead of enjoying each component in singularity. Try it for yourself, along with a big helping of guacamole – its sustainably cheap and healthy nature is a benefit you’ll take for granted as its taste takes centre stage!
From Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage ‘Veg Everyday!’
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 onions, sliced
2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of hot cayenne pepper, or to taste if you like spicy foods
¼ teaspoon of allspice (use sparingly!)
2 large courgettes OR 6 baby courgettes, diced
1 red pepper, deseeded and diced
2 tablespoons of tomato puree
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
400g tin of pinto or borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
100ml red wine
A generous handful of parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
Pour the oil into a large frying pan and warm over a medium heat. Once hot, reduce the heat, and add the onions. Allow them to sweat down, stirring occasionally until they are soft. Add the sliced chillies, ground cumin, garlic, cayenne pepper and the allspice. Stir to coat the onions in the spices.
Add the courgettes and peppers, and stir to combine. Add the tomato puree, tinned tomatoes, the beans, red wine and parsley. Pour 200ml of cold water into the sauce, and season. Simmer the chili gently for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring from time to time to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan!
When the sauce has thickened and the courgettes and peppers are tender, taste and season again if necessary. Using roughly 75g of rice per person, rinse the grains under cold water in a sieve. Bring twice the amount of water to rice (2:1) to the boil in a large pan. Add the rinsed rice, place a lid on the pan, and boil for 13 minutes over a medium heat.
Serve the chili with the rice, and optionally sour cream or guacamole if you want something to counter the spice!