It's extremely gratifying when something so simple — namely Mark Bittman's recipe for cornmeal pancakes — results in something so outrageously good. Nothing more than soaked cornmeal thinned out with a bit of milk and olive oil, these pancakes come off the griddle crispy-edged and tender in the middle.
These pancakes amount to a quick version of polenta. You mix the cornmeal with boiling water to soften it up and then add enough milk to make it into a loose batter. A few drops of oil add richness and silky texture.
The little cakes toast on the skillet, acquiring a crust that crunches as your fork bites in. The soft polenta-esque interior soaks up extra syrup and provides just the right contrast to the crispy edges.
We first had these for breakfast, minus the pine nuts since we didn't feel like running to the store. The corn flavor is definitely present, but softened. The vanilla added just the right touch of sweetness. A spoonful of cherry preserves and a sprinkle of walnuts (which we DID have!) made this a perfect breakfast. We also think the pancakes would make a good backdrop for less-sweet toppings, like Faith's breakfast of Eggy Polenta with Tomatoes and Mushrooms.
In fact, the savory potential of the pancakes led us to create a dinner version the very next night. We made another batch of the cornmeal batter, leaving out the vanilla and making a quick sauce of mushrooms, roasted red peppers, and chorizo sausage to pile top. It was an excellent midweek meal: quick, satisfying, and all around delicious.
These pancakes take about 20 minutes from the time you pull the ingredients out of the cupboard to coming off the griddle. Since they're gluten-free, this is a great recipe to make when gluten intolerant friends and family come to visit. We'll definitely be adding this to our arsenal of quick-fix breakfasts and dinner side dishes.
Related: Marcella Hazan's No-Stir Polenta - Recipe Review
(Image: Emma Christensen)