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Cooking Off the Cuff: Not Corn Pancakes - Pepper Pancakes

09/04/2013 08:24 am ET | Updated Nov 04, 2013

When locally grown corn is at its best, Jackie and I eat a lot of it. A few times per season, we gnaw it right off the cob with plenty of salt and butter. But that involves a lot of dental floss, so more often we shave off the kernels and cook them in any number of ways. One favorite is corn pancakes, which I always start with a butter- or oil-cooked mixture of onion or shallot and peppers (sometimes sweet, sometimes hotter). When this cools I add eggs, milk, the starchy juice and pulp scraped off the cobs, herbs of some kind and, finally, the corn kernels. A great side dish; indeed, a great meal.

But the corn season will soon be waning. It already is, I suppose. So last time I made corn pancakes I looked ahead to a corn-less future and thought it might be nice to make a similar pancake featuring the peppers in a central role. The other night I tried this, and it worked very well -- though the process had an interesting lesson to teach that made me modify the recipe on the fly.

For about a dozen two-plus-inch pancakes, I started with an aromatic, juicy ripe red bell pepper -- the long, thinner-fleshed kind that smells and tastes deeply peppery, not the merely colorful fruit of the hothouse. I charred it over an open gas flame, let it cool a bit, then rubbed-peeled-scraped off the blackened skin -- not under water, and not too meticulously, because it's good to taste a little hint of the fire -- and diced it fine. Meanwhile I was sweating a large shallot, minced and salted, in a generous 1-1/2 tablespoons of butter; when it was tender I added the diced pepper and cooked for half a minute, then set this aside to cool to room temperature.

To that vegetable base I added one egg, around a half cup of milk and a big handful of washed, dried, chopped dill, plus lots of salt and pepper. (The plan was to serve these pancakes topped with smoked salmon; for a different topping, I'd have used a different herb. For instance, with prosciutto-type ham, I might have used thyme, but in much smaller quantity because it is so bossy.) I then beat in enough flour to form a moderately thick batter: one that would be easy to spoon into the frying pan but that would not spread too much as it cooked.

Now comes that lesson: When trying something new, always perform a test if possible, especially if company is coming. In a small skillet, I fried one little pancake. It was a perfectly nice thing, but it didn't have as much pepper flavor as I'd intended, even though the pepper itself had been a delicious one. So I finely diced some more -- not roasted, not peeled -- and added it to the batter.

I fried the pancakes -- about a tablespoonful of batter each or a bit more -- in neutral oil, starting them over medium-high heat to start them browning, then lowering the heat to medium to cook them through (for the second batch there was no need to increase the temperature for the initial browning).

Once drained on paper towels and left to cool for a few minutes, these were topped with thin slices of smoked salmon; I was tempted to add a little dot of sour cream, but that would have confused matters. The combination of dill and sweet shallots and peppers was just right with the salmon and entirely sufficient by itself (though sour cream would have been great on salmon-less pancakes).

So when your principal ingredient is no longer in season, consider simply leaving it out.

Not Corn Pancakes. Pepper Pancakes