One of the oh-so many pleasures of spring is the arrival of fresh greens. I know, we can have them all year long from the markets these days. I do like to shop the small green grocer in town, though, who buys from local sources and whose stock tends to follow the seasons. In summer we will have our own greens from the garden, and sometimes I am diligent and plant a winter garden that will have produced coles and tender tops by now. But this year, I was not diligent…
When I was a child, my father’s mother used to make up spring salads using dandelion greens and miner’s lettuce, in combination with mixed leafy lettuces. Nothing was better after a winter of iceberg salads than those mixed up bowls of wildlings wilted with warm oil and served with bacon and vinegar. Oh, boy, I am about to launch into a memory of bacons that I might better hold until another occasion. This issue is for greens. Well, and some bacon, too.
One of our favorite spring breakfasts is this one.
We call it Savory Pancakes. It could be Onion Pancakes, or Pancakes and Greens. We reserve it for weekends, when we can indulge in a lazy schedule for breakfast, or for company. It’s supposed to feed four. Ahem. We usually clean it all up, just us two.
For the batter:
1 cup white flour (I use unbleached white flour, but use what you have)
2 or 3 teaspoons baking powder (Since ours tends to get lazy by the time the can runs low, I am generous.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs (Farm fresh are best, of course, but if you live and shop in the city, make do. I note, however, that we are in farmers’ market season now, and fresh eggs can be had at those wonderful gatherings of local small producers. Don’t go to the farmers’ market looking for cut-rate prices and bargains; the object is to get good food as fresh as possible, and while it probably won’t meet chain store prices, it will be more than worth the trip and expenditure!)
1 1/3 cup milk (Yeah, and go get a cow, too, while you’re shopping.)
3 Tablespoons melted butter, cooled a little
1/2 cup green onions, chopped small
Some oil or pan spray for cooking the hotcakes
A generous double handful, or a nice bowl full of loosely held fresh greens: dandelions, spring nettles [gloves!],* beet tops, or spinach, or a mix of them all. Spinach alone does very well for this preparation. Remove the stemmy parts.
A cube of butter: Don’t be shy. This will be good!
About 1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley
1 fresh lemon
16 slices of bacon: Thin cut is best for this. Avoid strong sugar or maple cures as you don’t want the sweetness.
Turn your oven to its practically lowest setting. It’s going to be a warming oven, so maybe about 200oF.
Digression: Forgive me if I write this like you have never cooked before. I don’t know who comes to read here, and I remember the gratitude and enthusiasm I brought away from my first copy of The Joy of Cooking, where every procedure is explained with care. That old book, printed in the 1970’s, is ragged now, and still the best cookbook on the shelf. Later editions do not, in my opinion, offer as much to the learning cook. So, if you would be so kind, think of this as my expression of the way I would have appreciated receiving a recipe at the time when I had little experience as a cook.
Make up a batter by combining the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Most recipes will tell you to sift the ingredients together and return them to the bowl. Digression: I really think our commercially ground flour comes to us pretty much without lumps and coarse patches these days. With the exception of some very special recipes (like Angel Food cake), I don’t think we need to sift the way we were raised to (for those of us who were raised in the mid-20th Century; and that’s as close a date as you will get from me!). Beat the eggs and milk together, mix in the melted butter, and bring the liquids to the dry ingredients. Beat them well until the batter is lumpless and smooth. Add in the chopped green onions, stirring. Let it rest while you prepare the hotcakes.
Start the bacon cooking on low heat. I like to cut the rashers in half shorty-way for this dish. Do it now or after cooking, either one. While it’s doing, steam the greens until they are limp and set them aside in the warm oven. For convenience and to limit the number of items on the stove, I do this on a screen spatter lid over a skillet of water brought to the boil. The greens wilt in nothing flat and I will drain and dry the skillet and use it for the hotcakes in a few minutes. Handle the greens gently as they are tender now. Lay them out on a plate so you can pick up individual leaves later. When the bacon’s finished, set it to drain in the warm oven. I like the bacon to be below crisp for this.
Melt the cube of butter. Squeeze in the juice of the lemon. Add the chopped parsley. Stir it together and set it in the warm oven.
Heat your skillet for baking the hotcakes. In the absence of a griddle (we hope to change that soon!), I like to use two or three smaller pans better than one large one. I can control a cake in each one, and they don’t run together.
If you need to adjust the consistency of the batter, do it now. I prefer thinner cakes to thicker ones. Pancake batter can vary a lot depending on elevation, temperature, humidity, and so on. I shared this recipe once with a gal who complained the cakes were too thick. If they seem so, add just a little more milk to the mix. Cooking is a combination of science and art: make them how you like them. The plan here is to come out with about a dozen cakes from quarter-cup dips.
As you cook the hotcakes set them in the warming oven. You will assemble the plates when all the cakes are cooked.
Using a quarter-cup measure, ladle the batter into the pan or griddle surface. Digression: A pancake is ready to flip when the upper surface is covered with evenly spaced bubbles in the batter. There is something of a window here, but you don’t want to flip too soon or the cake won’t be cooked through; flip too late and one side will be too dark. Well-made pancakes are thin enough that they are really cooked through when the first side is done. We flip and bake the second side so they are golden and appetizing top and bottom. As pancakes are finished, place them in the warm oven until all are cooked.
Now, take a hotcake and place it on each serving plate (2 or 4 plates: be your own moral compass!). Gently place a few green leaves on each cake. Place a bacon strip or 2 on each. Add a cake on top (Be stylish: don’t just pile them up like lumberjack cakes. This is cuisine here. Deal them out like a hand of playing cards so they will be pretty!), a layer of greens, and the bacon. Keep it up until you have a lovely plate full of golden hotcakes, greens and bacon. Get that melted butter, lemon juice and parsley from the oven. Stir it first, because it wants to separate, and pour it generously over each plate of hotcakes.
Rush it to the table where your guests are slavering by now. Serve it with lots of good strong coffee and maybe a small dish of fruit on the side. The fruit will provide a little bit of sweet accent to finish the meal.
Yes? We like it.
*Note on nettles: Tender spring nettle leaves are edible and nutritious. But you must cook them before eating! And you really do want to wear heavy gloves for collecting them. The sting will make its way though thin rubber gloves. If you are collecting in a big way and your leather gloves get soggy, it will find you there, too. If you’re not certain what to collect in the wild, don’t do it. If you’re uncomfortable about eating stinging nettles, even cooked, then go on to tamer fare. There are plenty of nutritious greens that come without a challenge.