This is one of those dishes that’s pleasing on a number of levels: it tastes good, it’s a take on a feast day speciality, it features seasonal produce, and the two principle components are even botanically related.
In fact, it was delicious, the compote featuring a variety of sharp and sweet flavours, which I tempered with some vanilla ice cream (though clotted cream, or crème fraîche, or mascarpone, or even custard, wouldn’t have been bad either), while the pancakes were satisfying and simple. The buckwheat flour I used from Dove’s farm was surprisingly pale and the pancake batter was not unlike one made with a plain white wheat flour.
So yes, it was Pancake Day (aka Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Martedi Grasso etc, the start of Lent). Fran wanted buckwheat pancakes, and her usual filling of ham and gruyere. I wanted something meat-free, so did a kind of celeriac and cauliflower cheese (as both veg are in season).
The past few springs, I occasionally saw rhubarb on the market in Rome, where it was an expensive imported delicacy. Being back in Blighty, I fancied some for dessert pancakes – and it’s in in season at the moment. Sort of. It’s forced rhubarb that’s available, with the growers in Yorkshire enticing the pink stalks out of the nutritious soils of their dark sheds. Heated sheds, so it’s not like it’s the most eco of crops, but traditionally it was important as a means of providing some “fruit” in British markets in an otherwise lean period. It’s certainly wonderful stuff, with its pink palette and sharp flavours. And forced has the edge on outdoor grown rhubarb, which comes into season in April and lacks the delicacy, with its tougher, weathered hide.
Rhubarb isn’t a fruit of course, it’s the stems of the plant Rheum rhabarbarum (its italian name is rabarbaro), a member of the polygonaceae family. Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is another member of this family; its starchy seeds being so grain-like they’re treated very similarly – though it lacks gluten, so presents challenges for those who want to use it for bread-making. It’s much more commonly used for noodles (such as Japanese soba, or even north Italy’s delicious but heavy duty pizzoccheri) and pancakes. The latter exist in various national cuisines, most famously Russia’s blinis and France’s galettes. These are a speciality of Brittany, where Fran lived for a while in her youth – hence her passion for them.
Anyway, some recipes. You need to make the pancake batter ahead of time, and ditto the compote can be made in advance.
Makes about 6 large (22cm ) pancakes. Double or triple the quantities if you’re hungry or have a large family.
100g buckwheat flour
Oil or butter for frying
1. Whisk together the egg and milk.
3. Put the flour and salt in a bowl, and pour in the liquid, whisking constantly.
4. Leave the batter to rest in the fridge for at least an hour.
[Now make your compote, below]
5. When you’re ready to make the pancakes, melt the 50g butter and whisk this into the batter. (I also added 1 extra egg white, just cos I had one hanging around.)
6. Heat oil or butter in frying pan and when it’s hot, add ladlefuls of the mixture (about 80ml each).
7. Fry until browning nicely then flip over.
8. Keep warm on a plate in a low oven.
Rhubarb maple compote
2cm fresh ginger, finely grated
1 orange, juice and fine zest
50g soft brown sugar
50g maple syrup
1 t cinnamon
1 vanilla pod
1. Chop the rhubarb into pieces about 2cm long. (Cut skinnier stalks slightly longer and fatter stalks slightly shorter, so they’re all about the same size and cook evenly).
2. Put in a large bowl with all the other ingredients and toss or stir to combine and coat. (We tend to keep our ginger root in the freezer, then just grate it on a Microplane/fine grater. Easy.)
3. Put the mixture in a roasting tray and cook for about 30-40 minutes at a low temperature, 150C (130C fan).
4. When the rhubarb pieces are tender remove from oven.
5. Strain, keeping the juices.
6. Boil the juices to thicken it. Don’t boil it all away though!
To assemble the pancakes, keep your frying pan warm after making them, then put one back in the pan, add a good dollop of rhubarb in the centre, and fold over the sides, like an envelope. Cook a little and flip over, to seal slightly. Or don’t bother. You could roll the pancakes with the filling if you prefer that form.
Put on a plate, with another dollop of compote, some of the juices and a good drizzle of maple syrup. I was wondering if I’d overdone it with too many flavours here – orange, maple, ginger, cinnamon and vanilla – but they all actually slot together nicely. Serve with your indulgent dairy product of choice.
We had salad with our savoury pancakes for our main course and that contained some common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) – which is another member of the polygonaceae family. So our Pancake Day dinner was a real polygonaceae feast. Truly a versatile element of the plant kingdom.