I grew up eating ricotta at dinnertime, often mixed with herbs or sauteed vegetables and baked into manicotti or layered between slivers of pasta and marinara. I thought of ricotta as a savory cheese, meant to be enjoyed cooked in those classic Italian-American red sauce dishes of the New Jersey dinner table. And just like, say, tuna or mushrooms, I never even paused to think that the lovely filling in my stuffed shells would be just as lovely as dessert or--better yet--breakfast.
Ricotta wakes up when left to its own devices. A quennelle balanced on a hearty bowl of chili cools the mouth just long enough to allow it to really appreciate the smoky heat. Spread thickly on toasted rounds of bread it is the perfect foil to spicy chutney. And, perhaps my favorite of all, a heaping scoop topped with fresh fruit and a thick dab of honey becomes the perfect weekday breakfast--all the elegance of a yogurt parfait with the rich mouth feel of cheesecake.
These Orange Ricotta pancakes are reminiscent of that simple weekday scoop, but with all of the decadence that weekend breakfast demands. And making them? Well that part is half the fun. You start by rubbing together orange zest and sugar to completely release all the natural citrus oils of the fruit. The scent is all kinds of ambrosial and I had to control myself from rubbing it into my wrists. Egg whites are then whipped thick and folded into the batter just before cooking, making for the fluffiest pancakes you've ever seen. When the bubbles start to break the surface, slip your spatula under and flip quickly.
These pancakes rise up fast, like little souffles, and are best eaten right away so make sure your family is ready and waiting with their plates. The cheese flavor is subtle, but present. Although they are delicious with syrup, I actually preferred mine plain, eaten with my fingers like a little flat cupcake. I think they would also be lovely with a light dusting of powdered sugar or maybe even a bit of orange blossom honey.
Orange Ricotta Pancakes
These pancakes get their incredible height and lightness from thickly beaten egg whites. To assure your whites stiffen perfectly, beat in a clean, cool metal bowl that has been wiped down with a cut lemon and then cleaned with a paper towel. This will get rid of any soap or oil residue left behind from previous uses.
Serves 2-3 (about nine 3" pancakes)
2/3 cup all-purpose or pastry flour, sifted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta (preferably fresh)
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup heavy cream
Freshly grated rind of ½ large orange
3 tablespoons freshly squeeze orange juice
3 large eggs, separated
In a small bowl or on a cutting board, mix the sugar and orange zest together, using the back of a spoon to rub into each other well.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar & zest mixture, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Sift together well.
In a separate medium bowl, combine the ricotta, sour cream, heavy cream, orange juice, and egg yolks and combine well.
Add the ricotta mixture to the flour and combine until smooth, but don’t overmix.
Use an electric mixer (or a lot of elbow grease) to beat your egg whites until stiff.
Gently fold about a third of the egg white mixture into your batter and then follow with the rest. Don’t worry if there are slight streaks of egg white in the batter.
Heat a nonstick or cast iron griddle and grease with a bit of butter. Spoon your batter in about 1/3 cup at a time. Let the pancakes cook until slight bubbles start to pop on the surface and the edges come together cleanly. Slip a spatula under and gently flip. Let cook until the edges are cooked and the pancake has risen.