The best recipes often come with a story behind them. This week, looking for a nice basic red sauce, I came across the much-lauded recipe by Marcella Hazan that’s incredibly simple — so simple it’s surprised countless food bloggers with its deliciousness and depth. Food bloggers being who they are, this prompted them to tell their own stories of their experiences with this recipe, along with that of Hazan, who is credited with bringing authentic Italian food to American kitchens.
The writers’ tales, along with their telling of Hazan’s story, made making the dish all the more meaningful to me. (And Michael loved it even without hearing the story!)
Food and drink are much improved by backstories and memories. I think about the wine-loving journalist couple of Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, who once wrote the Tastings column for the Wall Street Journal. One of their signature themes was “Open that Bottle Night” — a manufactured occasion (like all occasions, when you think about it) to open that special bottle of wine you’ve socked away for “a special occasion.” Enjoying the wine with friends, they contended, made an occasion.
Here’s Gaiter’s explanation of OTBN:
“…we kept hearing from readers who had one special bottle that they couldn’t bring themselves to open. It might have been from their wedding or honeymoon or from a fabulous trip to Greece. Babies had been born, graduations had been celebrated, significant anniversaries had been observed and yet the bottle had gone unopened. Too special! When, readers asked us, should they open it? While we think every day, every week should be OTBN, we established one day in the year when all of us, together, would open those special bottles and celebrate the memories in them.”
I recall with fondness a certain bottle of Yalumba Shiraz Viognier — this was the first time I’d encountered such a blend — that I enjoyed on an early date with my now-husband. We were celebrating a birthday (mine? his?) and we chose to try a new restaurant in my neighborhood called Craft (which is now the flagship of a foodie empire). For a while after that night, I looked for that particular bottle of wine — it was so special! — but eventually I realized that it would likely never taste as good as it did that night full of new love and promise.
The recipe I’m going to share today doesn’t have a romantic history, per se, but it tugs on those other steel-strong heartstrings — those connecting us to our childhoods and the sense of adventure and unconditional love some of us were lucky enough to enjoy in those days. When I was in grade school, one of my teachers asked each of her students to bring in a recipe tied to their family’s ethnicity. These recipes were then bound into a cookbook that we all brought home. One of my classmates, I learned then, was of Swedish ancestry (with a name like Johnson, it’s not surprising).
The recipe he shared for Swedish Pancakes was the only one of those shared recipes that made it into our family’s regular rotation. It became a semi-regular on the breakfast menu, and I’ve remembered it ever since.
My family — at least the boys and I — love pancakes, and, being a fan of novelty, I like trying out new variations on our standard recipes. For a while now, I’ve scoured the Internet for Swedish Pancakes recipes and haven’t ever been thrilled with the results. Finally, it occurred to me to go to the source — my former classmate is now a Facebook friend — and eventually I got that recipe from him again!
This morning was the first time I’ve had a chance to try it, and I’m happy to report that it is as delicious as I remembered. I added a little more sugar to the recipe to cater to our American pancake expectations. Three bonuses to this recipe: it uses more eggs, which gives us a chance to enjoy our birds’ production, and it used only one bowl, rather than two, making clean-up slightly less onerous. Also, since this is a thinner batter, I was only able to make one pancake at a time in my skillet, which resulted in rounder, prettier cakes.
Recipe: Swedish Pancakes
Summary: Thin, eggy and delicious pancakes. Recipe courtesy of my classmate, Kurt Johnson.
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2 c. milk
- 2 tbsp. melted butter
- 1 c. sifted flour (I used white whole wheat and it turned out very well.)
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. sugar (I used 1 tbsp.)
- Combine eggs, milk and butter; beat well.
- Add dry ingredients gradually, beating constantly. (Since the recipe called for the flour to be sifted, I added all the dry ingredients to the sifter, then sifted them into the wet ingredients, adding a little at a time and mixing thoroughly between additions.)
- Pour 3 tablespoons batter for each cake onto hot griddle and bake until top is bubbly and edges look cooked. This will be fast as it’s a thin batter.
- Turn and cook the other side.
The flip! Swedish pancakes. A video posted by Pamela Parker Caird (@pamelaparker) on
Note from Kurt: “When we were kids, my dad would sift powdered sugar on top and wrap them with strawberries.”