Sicily, Lemons, Vegetables & Pancakes

March 1st, 2011 / Comments 0

lemon branch c egbert Sicily, Lemons, Vegetables & PancakesOur flight from Boston to Sicily is not a direct one. We fly from Boston to Philadelphia and then on to Rome, change planes and fly from Rome to Catania in Sicily. The plane flies along the west coast of the boot and after about forty minutes, it’s possible to see Mount Etna poking through the clouds. The plane banks and begins its descent and, if we’re lucky and sitting on the right side of the plane, we may see smoke rising from the still active volcano.

Even if Etna is sleeping or we are sitting on the wrong side of the plane, we will see groves of citrus trees as the plane makes its approach to the airport in Catania. The trees are filled with either orange or yellow spheres. The blood oranges, spattered with garnet red, are perfect eaten out of hand or used to make peachy-pink orange juice. The lemons offer endless possibilities. When I have played the ‘dessert island’ ingredient game with friends, lemons are what I want on my raft as I head to shore. I need lemons to brighten hot or cold tea, for salad dressings and marinades, to flavor chicken, seafood, vegetables, pasta, cookies, pies and cakes.

We have been looking forward to returning to Sicily since New Year’s Day. These two months of anticipation have inspired me to use lots of lemons to bring the scent and flavor of Sicily to wintry Vermont. A couple of weeks ago, when I wanted a very simple dinner, I made a bowl of steamed winter vegetables topped with lemon butter. Here’s how I did it:

Winter Vegetables with Lemon Butter

I steamed four scrubbed and quartered, small red skinned potatoes, three peeled carrots cut in chunks, and eight Brussels sprouts until they were tender. I heated two tablespoons of butter, the juice from half a lemon and a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper in a saucepan over medium heat. When the butter had melted, I added the vegetables and stirred until they were coated with the lemon butter. I served the vegetable on a bed of peppery arugula leaves and dusted the vegetables with freshly grated lemon zest.

The simplicity of wintery vegetables coated with sunny lemon flavor was a perfect complement to my state of mind.

Last week, as we gathered warm weather clothes, a few kitchen tools, computer necessities, transformers, cables, cameras and Kindles, I wanted a lemon fix to chase the morning cold. I though of the pancakes topped with butter, sugar and lemon juice that my mother made.

English Pancakes

I blended two large eggs and one and a half cups of milk in a blender. While the blender whirled the eggs and milk for three minutes, I sifted together one and a half cups of flour, three quarters of a teaspoon of kosher salt, two teaspoons of baking soda and a teaspoon of sugar into a mixing bowl. I used a  spatula to combine the egg milk mixture with the flour mixture and then stirred two tablespoons of melted, unsalted butter into the batter.

I let the batter rest for fifteen minutes so that the flour could absorb the liquid. I used a small ladle to form fairly thin, three-inch diameter pancakes in a preheated and oiled, cast-iron frying pan. I cooked them over medium low heat, until bubbles formed and broke on the surface and then turned them to cook until golden.

Charles preheated plates in the microwave and we took turns minding the cooking. I topped each pancake with a sliver of unsalted butter, a dusting of granulated sugar and enough lemon juice to moisten it. Served with steamy cups of hot tea, made with loose tea that Matthew and Alison had sent from London at Christmas, breakfast was perfection and we were one morning closer to the lemon groves of Sicily.

English pancakes have a higher ratio of liquid to dry ingredients and are more delicate than traditional American pancakes. They are a welcome breakfast treat in that wintry span when the supply of last winter’s maple syrup is gone and sugaring hasn’t begun.

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