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Cooking Off the Cuff: Corn Pancakes, The Early Arrival Of an Annual Celebration

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Every summer, Jackie and I have corn pancakes at least once, often several times. Usually we await the reddening of the local peppers -- that sweet, juicy, infinitesimally sharp flavor is part of the allure. But this year's first corn pancakes landed on our plates earlier than usual, simply because of my careless shopping. I'd bought three ears of corn that, when shucked, proved to be not quite moist or dewy fresh enough to eat right off the cob. And even though the peppers in the market bag were green, the onions were young and sweet. Pancakes would be a good option.

So that's what we had for dinner. I started by cutting half a large onion into dice around the size of corn kernels and sweating it in butter with a little salt. When the onion was nearly cooked, I added a so-called frying pepper (the elongated, thin-walled pale green kind -- sweet, not hot), cut into similar sized dice, and continued to cook for just a minute to keep the peppers on the crunchy side. (If I'd had a small hot pepper I'd have added it too, minced fine.) I set this aside to cool.

With a knife, I cut the kernels from three medium-sized ears of corn into a bowl, then used the same knife to scrape down the cobs, squeezing out the starchy liquid and pulp. This damp pulp I put into the bowl of a food processor along with half of the kernels. (I sometimes puree only a third of the kernels; which way I go is dictated by whim, the point being that the proportions are not crucial.) I pureed this with fresh tarragon (smaller amounts of thyme or sage would be good alternatives, and lots of parsley would be nice too), a half cup of milk and two eggs. I added a generous cup (say, 175 g) of flour. I started with 3/4 that quantity and gradually added more until a thick but easily spoonable batter formed. Like a breakfast-pancake batter, in fact. Note that there was no leavening such as baking powder or whipped egg whites: I didn't want a cakey pancake in this instance.

I stirred this puree into the remaining whole corn kernels and added the onion-pepper mixture, then checked for seasoning both by tasting the raw batter and by cooking a teaspoonful of it in a little skillet. The batter now sat around for half an hour or so. This does in fact improve the mixture, but not enough for it to be really necessary: the wait was dictated by the timing of dinner.

To cook the pancakes, I heated a thick-bottomed skillet (a griddle would be fine), greased it with just a smear of butter (or slick of neutral oil) and spooned in the batter by big cooking-spoonsful - these quantities made eight pancakes 3 or 3-1/2 inches (say 8 cm) across. I cooked them fairly slowly - the batter must cook through - turning once when the first side was nice and brown. If you need to work in batches (I did), you can keep Batch A warm in a 150-degree F (65 C) oven or you can let them start to get cool. Or, of course, you can go ahead and eat if you don't mind hopping up every 20 seconds to check on the progress of the second batch.

We ate ours with maple syrup: its sweetness works marvelously well with the sweet-savory pancakes. Other options include gravy from last week's roast or stew (corn pancakes make a fine accompaniment to such dishes if you don't want to make a whole meal of them); a fresh tomato salsa; maybe even some sort of sweet-hot chutney or relish.

Those not-red peppers had great flavor, by the way: Jackie smelled them from two rooms away as I was cutting them up. But that doesn't mean we aren't looking forward to another batch as soon as the farmers' market peppers turn red. Ten days? Two weeks? I'll post an update on Twitter if I think of it.

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There's Corn In The Market: Now We Can Have Corn Pancakes!
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