Saturday, October 11, 2014

Chard, Ricotta, and Saffron Cakes


This mighty but miniature recipe is quite similar to another recipe I posted on this website, so I believe that a face off is in order. 

To be fair, I had forgotten that I had already posted a pancake chock full of chopped greens, so this face off is happening more in virtual rather than literal time, but I think we can make the connections. We, you and I, can do this.

Thus, in the bout of the century (okay, okay, this might be a little hyperbolic), let's pit Ottolenghi against Madison in a vegetarian pancake showdown. May the best batter cake win.

(Also to be fair, the photographs suggest that the former pancake (Ottolenghi) was actually cooked at the same time as the latter (Madison) pancake, and I had the wherewithal and foresight to photograph them together; however, to tell the truth (which is what we do here), the photograph is just of two of the Chard, Ricotta, and Saffron Cakes.  Now, all these asides aside... let's get down to business.)



In the right corner wearing the spinach trunks: as you may remember, the Yotam Ottolenghi Green Pancakes with Herb Butter were composed while I lounged in my pyjamas while in Fort Bragg. Such an environment as well as a sartorial presence, of course, gives a scanty advantage to Ottolenghi.  Environment means a lot.  But in food battles, it cannot be everything--to be fair, let's examine the taste details.

Ottolenghi's cakes were loaded with spinach and served with a dallop of (quite bright and delicious) herb and spice (cilantro, garlic, chile, and lime) butter.  That said, the cakes were a little cumin-y. I would halve the cumin, keep the butter, then slather the butter on everything I own (including my clothing, my cats, and any sweet potatoes), and soon after snack on those pancakes any time.


In the left corner, wearing the chard shorts: Deborah Madison's cakes call for greens again, a cup of ricotta, a splash of milk, a smattering of green onions, and a pinch of saffron. Madison recommends serving these pancakes as appetizers, a recommendation I shall ignore, as I found them a little more labor intensive than I care for when I am hanging out in the kitchen with guests.  However, as a weeknight meal when I have no pressure other that time constraints (those papers don't grade themselves), I am more than happy to drop ricotta batter into a little oil.  Yes, I am willing to make those kinds of commitments on a Thursday.

Further, I'll admit that I have a penchant for saffron; there's nothing like that briney, sweet, complex subtle taste from one of the world's most expensive spices (no worries, you need only a few threads that have been soaked in some hot water, thus releasing their flavor).  Therefore, in a not-unexpected choice wherein I select saffron over cumin, I would make these little Madison cakes over the cumin-y Ottolenghi ones.

However, I think you should make both and hold our own taste test, for (let's admit it), I would pass up neither of these.  Perhaps, I too should make both again and hold my own crowd-pleasing taste test.  What time can you be over for dinner?



One Year Ago: Ottolenghi's Salmon Steaks in Chraimeh Sauce

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Chard, Ricotta, and Saffron Cakes
Adapted from  Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy

Yield:
1 bunch Swiss chard, thick stems removed, leaves washed well
2 pinches saffron threads
1 cup whole-wheat flour*  
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4-1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
3 Tbsp olive oil plus additional olive oil for frying
1/2 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream (for garnish)
Large handful chives (for garnish)


*But you could use regular flour, if that's what you have on hand

Instructions:
1. After washing the chard, put it in a large pot with the water that clings to it. Cover and cook over high heat for 3-4 minutes or until wilted and tender. Watch it carefully so it becomes tender but does not overcook. If the pot seems dry, add a few splashes of water. Drain the chard in a colander and set aside to cool.

2. In a bowl combine the saffron and 2 Tbsp boiling water and set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and baking powder to blend them.

4. In another, larger bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, 1/4 cup of milk, and eggs, until smooth. Add the olive oil and the saffron and mix well.  Whisk in the flour mixture.  If the batter seems too thick, add 1/4 cup more milk.  This batter isn't as thin as a pancake batter, but it should be dropable by spoon.

5. With your hands squeeze out as much water as possible from the chard. Chop it finely. Stir the chard into the flour mixture.

6. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Drop the batter by the spoonful into the hot pan, making small or large cakes. The batter is quite thick; it will not behave like a pancake. You need to give it plenty of time in the pan to cook through. Cook for at least 3 minutes or until golden on the bottom, then turn the cakes once—resist the urge to pat them down—and continue cooking for 3 minutes more, or until the underside is done.

7. Serve each cake with a spoonful of yogurt and sour cream, along with chives (or any other garnish).


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