Tuesday, October 25, 2011
A few summers ago, I did a lot of canning. A lot. I scoured the neighborhood for free fruit, calling up friends with plum trees and trekking out to favorite blackberry-picking spots (despite the fact that picking blackberries is about as much fun as being scratched by cats). I took over the neighbor's fridge with cheesecloth-lined jars slowly drip-drip-dripping Concord grape juice for jelly, and nearly made us late to a dinner party by insisting we drive back past the free boxes of canning jars that I'd seen on my bike ride home. It's possible things got a bit out of hand.
But this past summer -- not so much. I got swamped with work and other obligations, read a terrifying article about how sugar will kill us all, and let my canning fall by the wayside. I made a batch of sour cherry jam (and a delicious tart) after harvesting from a neighbor's tree, but that was about it. No more wedding gifts of boxes groaning with rosemary plum jam, grape jelly and blueberry preserves. A few months back I was dishing out some yogurt for breakfast, only to realize that I had actually run out of jam. Who am I these days? It's all something of a shame, especially when you realize how very good jam can be.
I was recently reminded of the goodness of jam by Marisa, the canning master behind the inspiring website Food in Jars. We met up for coffee when she was in town recently (an event I nearly missed, due to creative calendaring), and in addition to sharing stories, she gave me a jar of nectarine-lime jam. It was a jar of jam so intense it nearly glowed, full of aromatic soft fruit brightened up with lime, with a delicately soft set (probably softened further by baggage handling). This was jam that brought my mind right back to summer. This was jam that cried out for something more than just PB&J to showcase its brilliance. This was jam that needed blintzes.
I was never a huge fan of sweet blintzes as a kid, preferring their savory potato-filled cousins instead. But having recently been won over by Russian cottage-cheese pancakes, I figured cheese-filled pancakes might be equally delicious. For this traditional Eastern European delicacy, thin crepes are pan-fried, filled with a sweetened cottage cheese mixture (I went with lightly-sweetened, to justify a more liberal jam application), and then folded up in the crepes and pan-fried in good amount of butter. Serve hot, with plenty of jam.
As the description suggests, these blintzes are a good amount of work. And truth be told, I think I might prefer the syrniki, which are both easier and more addictive. But it's nice to have an opportunity to brush up on my crepe-making skills, and turn out tidy little packages that my Russian forebears would approve of. And really, when you have jam this good, you've got to give it something special.
And speaking of special occasions, Mostly Foodstuffs is heading off for a special European edition: two weeks in the Basque Country! Expect some culinary hijinks, jet lag, and a whole lot of salt cod to follow.
adapted, quite liberally, from The New York Times Jewish Cookbook
makes ~12 blintzes (depending upon the size of your pan and the amount of batter you waste getting the hang of things), serving 6
1 cup milk
1 cup flour (I substituted 1/2 cup rye flour, as is my latest obsession, but straight white flour works great as well)
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
oil for frying
1 lb cottage cheese
1/2 tsp salt
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp vanilla
butter for frying
jam for serving
To assemble the blintz pancakes: Mix all ingredients in a blender, and blitz until a smooth batter is formed. Let sit for half an hour.
When the mixture has rested, heat a small skillet (8" or so) over a medium heat until it's good and hot. Add some oil, and then add a swirl of ~3 tablespoons batter, enough to coat the bottom entirely to form a thin pancake. The name of the game is working fast -- add your batter, and then immediately swirl it around, using enough force to make it happen quickly (you can ask the internet to show you videos of this). I kept forgetting to act quickly and forcefully (in my life as well as my blintz-making), but really that's the key. If your batter is too thick to do this, add a wee bit more milk/water and try again. And really, don't worry if your first attempt or two end in failure.
When you've formed the pancake, let cook until the top no longer looks wet and the edges have peeled back from the pan, ~45 seconds. Peel it off (they only need to cook on one side), and transfer to a plate to cool. Add a bit more butter to the pan, and fry up the remaining batter (pancakes will stack without sticking).
When you have formed all of your blintz pancakes, clean out the blender, and add the filling ingredients and pulse a few times to mix them well and break up the cottage cheese curds a bit.
To fill and finish the blintzes: Add a pat of butter to the frypan. Take a blintz pancake, and lay it flat, cooked side facing down. Add a few spoonfuls of fillings, and roll up the blintz like a burrito. Place, seam side down, in the pan, and fry until golden, ~2-3 minutes. Turn over gently (they're a bit delicate while hot), and fry the other side. Repeat with remaining blintzes and filling. Enjoy hot, with a lot of good jam.
at 8:10 AM