For Easter weekend, we opted to forgo family feasts, pack our bags and flee north. Not quite a two hour drive from Rome and not far from the edge of an expansive blue lake, my boyfriend’s family has a small apartment outfitted like a cabin with only the bare necessities. The stove is powered by a gas tank. The tablecloth is vinyl and easy to wipe clean.
The book I’m reading takes place in Bangalore where a family of five lives in three small rooms and makes do with a bench, two chairs and a table to support a gas stove. They stack their mattresses in the back room by the shrine during the day. We bring sheets from the city to use in the bedroom upstairs and stop at a nearby grocery store for pancake fixings. Sheep’s milk ricotta from Sardinia and lemons the size of my head are dropped into the shopping basket. I request an impromptu lesson on the popular local white wine, Frascati, cultivated since the 5th century BC and favored by the Ancient Romans, and add a bottle to the basket.
In the mornings in Bangalore, the mother washes the stone slab in the doorway and scrapes it clean with a coconut broom before drawing a small rangoli in rice flour. I picture eating off rough stone, before I realize that rangoli is not for eating, but is instead a decorative drawing believed to bring good luck. Perhaps I should get up a half an hour early, scrub the stone with water poured from a small bowl and let the fine white grains slip through my fingertips into slender curves.
I sleep late instead and fumble through the cabinets looking for mixing bowl and spatula, whisk and wooden spoon. I wash a frying pan, separate the eggs, and use a literal cup in place of a measuring cup assuming the name must have come from somewhere.
Vanilla extract and baking powder are uncommon in Italy and while I usually replace them with real vanilla bean and baking soda and lemon, I give into the small commercial packet my boyfriend found at the grocery store, only to discover too late that it does not include baking soda. Halfway into mixing, I consider abandoning the pancakes altogether, but its Easter and I press on. In lieu of a whisk, I industriously apply a fork to whipping the egg whites in hopes they will be strong enough to stand in for the baking soda–they are, and then some. The pancakes were velvety and bright and some of the very best I have ever made.
Sheep’s milk ricotta pancakes
Mix together: 1 large cup of sheep’s milk ricotta (or any other type of ricotta you prefer), 1 cup flour, 3/4 cup of whole milk, squeeze of fresh lemon juice, 5 teaspoons of sugar, a pinch of salt, 2 lightly beaten egg yolks. Add 1 teaspoon baking soda if you’ve got it. Scrape the inside of half a vanilla bean into the batter and blend or add whatever vanilla stand in you’ve got or just skip it. Whisk 2 egg whites until they form small peaks, fold into the batter. Melt just enough butter over medium high heat to coat the frying pan. Pour a small amount of batter, roughly 1/3 cup, into the frying pan and wait until the edges of the pancake start to cook and the center bubbles and then gently flip. Keep the oven at a very low temperature and slide the pancakes onto a waiting baking sheet until ready to serve warm with real maple syrup.
Pancakes are flexible and open to variation. I posted a similar recipe with honey last year. I wonder why I think about pancakes so much.