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Pancakes for dinner!

I've never really cared much for pancakes at breakfast. It's a long story, hardly worth going into, having to do with ugly Scout Camp breakfasts during my teen-age years, a long time ago.

But savory pancakes, on their own or topped with something interesting, make a tasty change of pace from potatoes or pasta at dinner time that works just fine for me.

Like so many of the concepts I feature in this space, the pancake dinner is almost infinitely variable, depending on your tastes and what's in the larder. Potato pancakes (featured in the Dec. 18, 2003 FoodLetter) are always a treat, for instance; I've also featured an Italian-style on an Asian variation, the noodle pancake (Jan 23, 2003 FoodLetter). Toppings open another entire realm of options, using the pancake of your choice as a base for "plating" almost any imaginable edible. Drape smoked salmon over potato or buckwheat pancakes, or melt on a topping of grated cheese. Or think of chocolate or ice cream or sweet fruit topping ideas and move your flapjacks onto the dessert plate, approaching the line where pancakes and crepes meet.

Pancakes moved into the realm of the practical for me when I realized that a slick nonstick skillet makes almost the perfect cooking tool, useable with only a few calories of oil or butter wiped across its surface with a paper towel, and just about guaranteed to let your babies slide free as perfect, golden rounds.

Here's a variation that features a bit of cornmeal in the batter to give the pancakes a tasty crunch; a homeopathic addition of bread yeast to add extra leavening and subtle flavor, and a bold, red-wine-friendly topping that brought together the earthy flavors of an artisanal American Camembert-style cheese and herb-heady Sicilian olives. Feel free to substitute ingredients to your liking; this makes a light dinner main course, a hearty side dish or an intriguing appetizer.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

1/2 cup (120g) white flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon (10g) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
3/4 cup yogurt
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking powder

4 tablespoons flavorful soft cheese. (I used "Shepherd's Wheel," a Camembert-style cheese from Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. in New York, but any cheese you like will be fine.)
2-3 ounces pitted olives. (Again, substitute freely, but a robust, flavorful variety works best. I used a green Sicilian olive packed with mixed herbs and spices.)


1. In a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients, mix the flour and cornmeal, sugar, salt, pepper and yeast. (Note to readers outside the U.S. and Canada: Our "corn" is your "maize," and cornmeal is a slightly more coarsely ground version of your cornflour. Substitute cornflour if you prefer - or just use 3/4 cup of flour to make a standard pancake, although I would miss the corn flavor.)

2. Beat the egg until it's well-mixed, and add the yogurt and egg into the dry ingredients, stirring just until everything is blended. Set aside for 30 minutes to 1 hour before cooking, to give the yeast a chance to work. (You may see random bubbles, but the batter probably won't get frothy.)

3. Chop the olives coarsely, and stir them in with the cheese to make a thick spread. Add a little milk or cream if needed to get a creamy texture.

4. Put a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until it's hot, then wipe with a bit of butter or paper towel dampened with oil, just enough to paint a thin coating on the surface. (I used two skillets so I could cook the entire batch at once; alternatively, set your oven to warm so you can hold one batch on a plate while you finish the rest.)

5. Just before cooking, stir the baking powder into the batter. Drop about one heaping tablespoon of batter onto the skillet to make each pancake; there should be enough for about a dozen "silver dollar" size rounds. Reduce heat to medium-low and let them cook gently until they're firm on the bottoms and well-risen, about three minutes; then turn gently, using a thin spatula, and cook for two or three minutes on the other side.

6. Flip the pancakes one more time and spoon a dab of the cheese-olive mix on top of each. Leave on heat just until the cheese warms and starts to melt.

WINE MATCH: I look to the topping more than the pancake to fine my wine pairing, and in this instance, the creamy cheese and earthy olives suggested a fruity red. I was very happy with its affinity for the excellent Catacula Lake 2000 Napa Valley Zinfandel.

Want a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of these recipes, suitable for printing, online at

If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about this recipe or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by our Food Lovers' Discussion Group, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "FoodLetter: Pancakes for dinner!"

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Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Alfredo "lite" (April 22)

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Thursday, April 29, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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