Beer pancakes with eggplant and urda in tomato sauce
Eggplant – aside from whiskers on kittens and raindrops on roses- is one of my favourite things. If you too pop eggplant and ricotta rolls as if they were sweets, think that “salata de vinete” (Romanian for eggplant salad) with onions is totally acceptable breakfast fare, take second helpings of moussaka, polish off the entire bowl of moutabal yourself when “sharing” mezze and don’t notice that there is no meat in “melanzane parmigiana”, then you might like this amalgamation. Beer, eggplant, tomato sauce and “Urda” (Romanian type of cheese) in one dish – how can this not taste good?
It’s eggplant bonanza time in August, so a good time of year to combine over ripe tomatoes into a tomato sauce, local Romanian “Urda” – which is the same stuff as the oh-so-trendy and oh-so-overpriced imported Italian ricotta with the bounteous plump purple torpedoes.
Ever since I hosted “Pancake day” parties in London with piles of crepes crammed with savoury fillings, I have used beer for savoury pancakes. I love the slightly sour earthy taste it endows upon a dish without outshining the filling ingredients or perhaps I have a crepe sniffing habit? Anyhow they do smell uber delicious when you cook them and the beery aromas waft through your kitchen. Own brand supermarket beer is cheaper than milk in case you needed any further convincing that beer in pancakes is a good idea. To end on a virtuous note though, this dish is fairly light and 100 percent vegetarian.
Gadgets & Gizmos
A good pancake pan or frying pan that you have used before and are comfortable with and a spatula to flip the pancakes over. A ceramic or glass dish to bake the finished pancakes in – square or rectangular works best.
Timeline & Planning
I actually make the pancakes while the veggies are roasting so that all you need to do is mix the filling, blitz the sauce, assemble and bake. But yes, the dish is a bit fiddly so rather than make all these delicious things for just one dish, better to freeze half the pancakes and make a large batch of tomato sauce for a moment when you need to impress fast
Ingredients: serves four
For the pancakes (makes 10 x 22cm pancakes)
500ml of beer (a lager type of beer or blond beer for this filling – I use “Zaganu” as it is unpasteurised and full of flavour)
250g plain flour
60ml sunflower oil
(For 6 pancakes and a glass of beer for the cook use 340ml beer, 2 eggs, 40ml oil and 170g flour)
For the filling:
Two Medium size eggplant approx 1kg
300-400g Urda (you don’t want all cheese and no eggplant). I recently used goats urda (“Urda de capra”) and sheep’s urda is fabulous too. Ricotta is the substitute ingredient here.
salt, pepper, nutmeg
An aside on tomato sauce
There are as many different types of tomato sauce as there are cooks so I won’t be prescriptive here. The basic rule of thumb I follow is that unless you have the best juicy ripe tomatoes, then don’t bother with a fresh sauce. Instead roast the tomatoes, roast the onion as well to sweeten it and yes, do add a can of plum tomatoes, a slug of wine, martini or something and then blitz it. If you want a smooth sauce, then either peel and seed your tomatoes first or pass the mixture through a “mouli” (food mill). I never bother for everyday home cooking and besides the seeds and skin is where a lot of the goodness lies in tomatoes!
Super Easy Lemon Squeezy Tomato Sauce
4 cloves garlic
1 kg of tomatoes
500ml of tinned tomatoes, tomato juice or passata ie quite a liquidy 500ml
Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally. Oil a baking sheet that you have covered with aluminium foil (reduce washing up). Don’t bother to skin the onion or garlic. Throw the garlic, tomatoes and onion on the sheet and roast in the oven for approximately 1 hour – until the tomatoes look well cooked and start to caramelize a bit. You want the little brown caramelly bits – they add taste.
After roasting, pop the now sweet and soft onion and garlic out of their skins and throw into a saucepan with all your tomatoes. Search the house for leftover alcohol: leftover dregs in the fridge, port or the kitchen staple Martini all work well. If you are confident you will remember to take them out before blitzing add two bay leaves. At this stage the seasoning is up to you and the final dish you are using the sauce for. I sometimes add thyme, oregano, lemon zest or Worcestershire sauce depending on the dish and lets be honest depending on what is in the kitchen. Let the mixture boil and then cook on a low, low heat for at least 20 minutes. The sauce deepens in flavour if you can leave it an hour. Blitz it up with a stick blender or in a blender and you are set to go.
Variations: only use roast tomatoes and add raw onion at the end when you blitz for a fabulous pure roast tomato sauce.
Pancakes: Use a ladle to pour in the batter to a hot frying pan and swirl around so the batter just coats the pan. Pour off any excess fast and remember how much you added, so from pancake number two they will all be perfect. When the pancake kind of starts to curl up at the edges and lift from the pan it can be safely flipped over ( I use a long spatula). The pancakes should be golden brown. Stack them up on a plate as you make them. I find pancake making kind of hypnotic but perhaps it’s the beer vapours?
Filling and assembly: slice the eggplant into thick slices and place on an oiled baking tray lined with aluminium foil. Bake for approximately one hour alongside the tomato and onion tray. The eggplant does need to be cooked and not shoeleathery like so many badly made grilled vegetable side dishes that give grilled eggplant a bad name. Part of eggplant’s allure is that creamy texture when it is properly cooked.
Chop the eggplant roughly into cubes and mash in the urda and approximately two thirds of the parmesan. I add a little nutmeg, salt and pepper and sometimes a little fresh thyme.
Spoon two good tablespoons of filling onto a pancake and squish it down a bit with the pancake rolled over. This is actually easier than it sounds. Tuck in the ends (although not vital) so the pancakes fit the dish and place in the dish
Pour over the tomato sauce, sprinkle the remaining parmesan on top and bake in the oven at 180C for 30 minutes until the cheese is nicely browned.
Serve with a green salad and a glass of something cold.