I'm sort of torn about The New York Times Magazine food page. There are times when I don't even bother to tear it out, and other times when it's among the best food writing I've read all year. I can't stand the flimsy paper - the recipes end up getting grease-soaked and dog-eared after three minutes in the kitchen - but the stories can be so whimsically interesting and utterly useful (who knew that David Halberstam - my commencement speaker, incidentally - was married to such a great cook? And that deep-fried peaches could be delicious? I'm eternally grateful to Steven Raichlen and his rice perfumed with ginger and coconut. And where, by the way, has Julia Reed gone? Has Vogue swallowed her up entirely? Does she not need to eat anymore?).
Amanda Hesser's recent piece on lemons and their desert-island qualities was one of those articles that I couldn't read just once. It was my bedtime reading a few times over. Not just because it was practical and informative (though it was) but also because it was a joy to read: "[Lemon] is the pillar of lemon-meringue pie, the sting in tabbouleh, the perfume in genoise, the zip in chicken tandoori, the structure in hollandaise, the clarity in a hot toddy and the fragrance in German hazelnut cookies." People have piled on Amanda Hesser for all sorts of reasons (I think the overarching one is jealousy), but the fact remains that her food writing is smart and lovely.
She included a recipe she'd developed by combining a recipe for hazelnut waffles from Balthazar with one for lemon-ricotta pancakes from Four Seasons, using a recipe for cottage-cheese pancakes from the Joy of Cooking as the base to work from. After the weekend in Boston celebrating my old man's birthday, I came back to New York laden down with 2 pounds of leftover ricotta (his birthday cheesecake required it), not to mention fresh sun-dried tomatoes from Apulia, salted capers, cruets of basil and lemon oil, Easter eggs of chocolate-cloaked marzipan, and pistachio paste. Yes, folks, my mother's in town. My new-found bounty has me all in a tizzy and I'm washing jam jars frenziedly to prepare them for marinated sun-dried tomatoes. But I digress! We were talking about ricotta.
In an attempt to use up some of the mounds of ricotta sitting in my fridge (any other ideas, by the way?), I decided to kill several birds with one stone: not only would I make breakfast for my mother, but I'd use up some ricotta, make a recipe for the blog, and break in my very first cast-iron pan. All of this, admittedly, was a bit much to take on a Tuesday morning. But you know me and my morning determination: nothing can get in the way of it. Thanks to the soothing explanation from Sara Kate over at The Kitchen, I seasoned my pan last night (don't think I left it in the oven long enough, though, because it was still a bit sticky when I took it out) and got to work this morning.
I started by rubbing together lemon zest and sugar (this mixture really is aphrodisiacal - if I ate more sugar, I'd be using this on everything), then stirring it with the dry ingredients that included toasted, chopped hazelnuts. In another bowl, I whisked together milk, vanilla, melted butter, eggs, and strained ricotta (though for the "straining" I had all of 4 minutes - not quite sure this is what Amanda had in mind, but it didn't seem to make a difference). I folded the wet mixture into the dry, then folded in stiff egg whites, before heating some butter in my glorious new pan and gently frying up 1/4 cup portions of pancakes.
We ate them with a fillip of creamed honey on top, though I'm not sure they even needed it (a barely-there dusting of powdered sugar would be prettier). The pancakes were light and airy from the beaten eggs, nubby and toasty from the pulverized nuts and fragrant with lemon zest and ricotta. They were absolutely delicious and delightfully light (pancakes usually sit in my belly like a lead weight) so if I were you, I'd print out this recipe and laminate it or something.