Sweet and Savory Pancakes with Olio Nuovo, Honey, and Pistachios

 

By Amelia Saltsman | Photos by Judy Doherty

These easy-to-make cheese pancakes are delicious for brunch, lunch, supper, or dessert any time of the year. Made with a mixture of fresh and aged cheeses and topped with salty pistachios, honey, and good olive oil, they sparkle with contrasting flavors, colors, and textures. When prepared in November or December, this pretty treat is doubly rich in meaning.

Cheese pancakes are a traditional Hanukkah holiday food dating from 14th-century Italy, Spain, and the Middle East. Jews who lived in olive oil–producing regions often fried cheese patties in olive oil to commemorate the rebellion led by Judah and the Maccabees in 165 BCE against Syrian-Greek rule, the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the mythical bit of olive oil that kept the holy Temple lamps lit for eight nights. It would be centuries before potatoes made their way from the New World to the Old to give us Hanukkah potato latkes fried in the meat-based fats of Western and Eastern Europe. Fun fact: The tradition of dairy foods for Hanukkah was mistakenly inspired by the biblical story of Judith, who subdued the enemy with salty cheese and wine to slay him. Judith’s exploits preceded the holiday’s origin story by about 400 years, but the tradition of cheese pancakes endures.

Hanukkah is also a thanksgiving for the late-autumn olive harvest and milling of new oil. Olive oil production had been hugely important to the region’s economy for thousands of years before the Maccabean revolt. The ancient Hebrews marked the start of the olive harvest on the dark moon closest to the winter solstice, which occurs in late November or December. Not coincidentally, this date came to mark the first night of Hanukkah, a festival to light the darkest, longest nights of the year, with lamps fueled by olive oil.

Now, more than 2,000 years later, late-autumn is still the moment of the olive harvest and milling. It’s the time to celebrate the ultra-green, creamy, aromatic first bottlings of the season’s new oil, or olio nuovo, that many California and Italian producers offer in November and December.

Hanukkah begins on November 28 in 2021, but whether you celebrate it or not, you can cook these happy little pancakes in the last of last year’s oil, and lavish them with the season’s new oil to connect to a millennia-old harvest tradition.

 

Los Angeles-based award-winning cookbook writer Amelia Saltsman is the author of The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen. ameliasaltsman.com

 

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Sweet and Savory Pancakes with Olio Nuovo, Honey, and Pistachios


  • Author: By Amelia Saltsman | Photos by Judy Doherty
  • Yield: Makes 15 to 18 3-inch pancakes 1x

Description

These easy-to-make cheese pancakes are delicious for brunch, lunch, supper, or dessert any time of the year. Made with a mixture of fresh and aged cheeses and topped with salty pistachios, honey, and good olive oil, they sparkle with contrasting flavors, colors, and textures. When prepared in November or December, this pretty treat is doubly rich in meaning.


Ingredients

Units Scale

For pancakes:

  • 1 cup (6-8 ounces) farmer cheese, whole-milk ricotta cheese, or whole-milk cottage cheese, drained (See note.)
  • 2 ounces ricotta salata, kashkaval (AKA caciocavallo), or other salty semihard cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons good quality olive oil, plus more for frying
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Toppings:

  • Honey (orange blossom honey would be very nice)
  • Olio nuovo, or other delicious olive oil
  • Roasted salted pistachio kernels, coarsely chopped (For nut-free version, substitute finishing salt, such as Maldon, for pistachios)

Instructions

Note: You may use farmer cheese, whole-milk ricotta, or whole-milk cottage cheese. If using ricotta or cottage cheese, drain it in a sieve set over a bowl for at least one hour or overnight in the refrigerator before making the batter. Batter consistency may be stiffer or looser depending on your choice of cheeses, but the pancakes will be delicious regardless. If you prefer, you can make the batter ahead and refrigerate up to overnight.

Using large-hole side of box grater, grate enough cheese to yield lightly packed ½ cup.

In mixing bowl large enough to contain all pancake ingredients, whisk eggs until well-blended. Stir in farmer cheese and grated salty cheese, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 1 tablespoon honey. Mix thoroughly. Stir in flour until just blended.

Have the batter, a soup spoon, a paper towel–lined plate or sheet pan, and a pancake turner near stove. Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into a 12-inch skillet set over medium heat. When oil liquefies and shimmers, add a teeny bit of batter. If you immediately hear a good sizzle and the oil bubbles at batter’s edge, you’re ready to cook.

Using a soup spoon, add generous spoonful of batter to skillet and gently flatten into 3-inch pancake. Repeat, leaving enough room between pancakes so you will be able to turn them easily. I usually can manage 5 pancakes to a 12-inch pan.

Cook pancakes until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Oil should continue bubbling nicely at edges of pancakes, but lower heat as necessary to prevent burning. Flip pancakes and cook second side, about 2 minutes longer. Remove pancakes to towel-lined plate to drain briefly. Repeat with remaining batter, adding 1 tablespoon oil to the pan between batches.

To serve: Warm honey briefly in microwave or in pan of hot water. Arrange pancakes on a pretty platter or divide among 6 individual plates. Drizzle pancakes liberally with olio nuovo and honey, and scatter chopped salted nuts (or the healthy pinch of finishing salt) over pancakes.

Notes

 

Recipe © 2020, Amelia Saltsman