Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Comfort Food: Pancakes and Pasta

Everyone’s definition of “comfort food” is different. When I was sick as a child, all I wanted was creamy oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar. Warm, soothing, with a hint of sweet. The following two recipes hit the mark for me as well. Freshly made pancakes with warm real maple syrup or homemade apple sauce. The perfect way to start a day when you know the afternoon will hold a nap. And the creamy garlic-infused pasta that calls out to be eaten on a chilly day when the rich fulsome sauce encourages you to give into your desire to snuggle under the covers with a good book after consuming a bowlful.

These really are wonderful pancakes. I started making them in Japan when my first son, Franz, was a baby and continued making them through the boys' teen years, mostly for breakfast but sometimes for dinner when I was down to eggs and milk in the fridge and flour in the cupboard.

¾ cup white flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
2 eggs
3 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon molasses

1. Sift the flours, salt, sugar, and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. If you don’t have a sifter, place all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir well.
2. Pour the milk into a measuring pitcher.
3. Separate the eggs, dropping the whites into a small mixing bowl and the yolks into the milk. Add the oil and molasses to the milk mixture and stir to combine.
Note: The molasses will slip right out of the tablespoon if you use your tablespoon to measure the oil first.
4. Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir lightly until just blended.
5. Beat the egg whites, until they hold a soft peak. Gently fold into the pancake mixture.
Note: If you want to get some exercise beating your egg whites, use a whisk or an old-fashioned eggbeater. If not, use a hand-held electric mixer.

6. Pour about ¼ cup batter into a lightly greased large frying pan or griddle on medium high heat. You can probably cook about 3 pancakes at a time with room to turn them over easily. Cook until bubbles form in the pancake and the edges are set. Flip and cook until the bottom is brown and the pancake is cooked through.

7. You can keep the first pancakes warm in a 250°F oven for a short period of time while cooking the rest.
8. Serve with warm maple syrup, applesauce, jam, yogurt—or whatever you fancy.

Makes 10 regular-sized pancakes
Handwritten from a cooking notebook I kept while in Japan, 1971-73
As you can see from above, I added a photo to the page just recently.

A Creamy, Calming Pasta Dish with Sausage

4 heads of garlic or an equivalent number of garlic cloves
Note: Most supermarkets now-a-days have plastic containers of peeled garlic in the produce department. If you are pressed for time, this is the occasion to use them.
2 tablespoons olive oil
6-8 springs of fresh thyme
1 pound dried shell or tube-shaped pasta [I used Delverte’s No. 32 Penne Rigate]
2 cups heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
4 fresh sweet uncooked Italian sausages
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme, stripped and chopped

1. Place the unpeeled whole heads of garlic or the equivalent peeled garlic cloves in a small baking pan. Drizzle with oil and thyme and place in a 400ºF oven. Roast the garlic until the cloves are very soft and sweet, 50-60 minutes for the heads and much less for the cloves.
2. Cool the garlic heads and then tear them apart and squeeze out the contents of each clove into a small bowl. [This step took nearly all of my considerable patience and is the reason I devised a simpler method.] Or place the peeled cloves in a bowl. Mash them into a paste, adding a small bit of your 2 cups of cream to help the process.
Note: You can use a mortar and pestle, a Japanese suribachi, a potato masher, a small food processor or a fork to smash and mash the garlic. You do not need to make it perfectly smooth unless you want to.
3. Put your pot of salted water (for cooking the pasta) on the stove on high. Bring it to a boil while you are working on the next two steps.
4. Warm the garlic paste in a sauté pan over moderate heat, pour in the cream, whisk the garlic and the remaining cream to combine, bring to a simmer, add salt and pepper to taste, and cook for several minutes.
5. Skin the fresh sausage, crumble the meat into a frying pan and fry until done.
6. Cook the pasta in your pot of boiling salted water until it is al dente. Drain in a colander, saving about ½ cup pasta water to use in the sauce as needed.
7. Tip the pasta and drained sausage into the cream, toss gently and heat until all the elements are warm and the cream is gently bubbling. If the sauce is thicker than you like it, add a bit of the reserved pasta water to thin it out until you reach the consistency that is right for you. Add more salt and pepper if needed. Ladle into plates or bowls and garnish with fresh thyme leaves.

I serve this pasta with steamed spinach; I like its bracing flavor up against the richness of the cream and pasta.

6 servings
Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Appetite

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