It’s that time of year again…Siobhan’s birthday, and after all the ridiculous meals I make for her year long, the one thing she asks for like clockwork in September is breakfast. Not just any breakfast… the one type of breakfast that makes me cringe and my teeth hurt thinking about.
If you don’t know me, the few things that I can’t stand are pancakes (mostly the syrup part), bananas, and chocolate. Let’s face it, I don’t have a sweet tooth in my mouth. I’d take a dozen eggs and endless strips of bacon over pancakes, waffles, or french toast. The banana thing, isn’t as much about flavor as it is texture. I have the same problem with overcooked eggplant. I feel like someone ate fifteen bananas, chewed them all up real good, and then piped the mush into the shape of a banana.
All that being said… it is her birthday, and she deserves whatever she wants, even if I have to pick up a breakfast sandwich for myself. She requested pancakes on Sunday morning after we had a little birthday party on our roofdeck.
I agreed but came up with a twist that would combine all three things that she loves and I fear in one dish (kill 3 birds with one stone). I have never made a pancake in my life so you would think that I would make something basic, but what fun is that?
I relied on my new friend Aunt Jemima and a familiar product from my favorite region of Italy. Nutella is the hazelnut based spread from the northern Piedmont region that is now widely popular in many different countries. In 1949, taxes on cocoa beans hindered the production of natural chocolate, so Pietro Ferrero invented this hazelnut spread that also contains cocoa solids and skim milk.
The amount of cocoa solids is so little that by Italian law, it cannot be labeled as a chocolate product. In 2007, I made my first visit to northern Italy, and spent some time in vineyards in the Langhe district of Piedmont.
I vividly remember sweating my ass off in the back of a cab, leaving a wine tasting, sporting a solid Barbaresco buzz, and listening to the cabbie as he pointed out hazelnut trees. I think we even drove by the Nutella factory, but that could have been the grappa talking. I simmered some milk in a sauce pot and spooned in a few massive dollops of Nutella, whisking away to incorporate everything smoothly.
After a few minutes, I was left with a warm Nutella milk, which I had to let cool because Jemima told me so. It was a good thing that I made extra because Siobhan had a tall glass poured over ice. As much as I despise chocolate… I can still appreciate it, and I did take a small taste.
I have to say, I think that Quiky, the Nesquick Bunny better start learning Italian because this was rich and delicious. After the Nutella milk cooled, I added it to Aunt Jemima’s mix along with some eggs, and vegetable oil. After some folding and stirring, the batter came together, thick and gooey.
While it rested, I started on the topping for my Nutella pancakes. Bananas Foster is a New Orleans legend. It was created in 1951 by Paul Blange’ at Brennan’s restaurant in the French Quarter, and has since then been adapted into tons of different desserts. Originally, it was sliced bananas, sauteed in brown sugar and butter, flambeed with dark rum, and spooned over vanilla ice cream. I peeled, and sliced my banana, and tossed it into the frying pan, filled with a cavity-inducing sauce.
After the bananas were heated through I poured in some dark rum off the heat, and then tilted the pan so that the alcohol was ignited by the flame. “POOF”!!!… the pan was immediately engulfed with tall blue flames, sending Siobhan into panic mode, and leaving me chuckling infront of the stove. The alcohol burned off, the flames died down eventually, and the mixture was left with a rich, dark rum flavor. The combination of butter, brown sugar, rum, and bananas is a classic treat.
I brought out my massive, non-stick skillet and got ready for the flapjack fiesta. One by one, I carefully ladeled globs of dark brown pancake batter into my pan and watched as the bubbles slowly peeked through the top. As the pancakes cooked, the intense Nutella aromas enhanced the kitchen, creating a chocolate, nutty smell. Flipping the pancakes into a giant stack was the fun part, and I topped each plate with an enormous spoonful of Bananas Foster and a cannelle of sweetened, whole milk Ricotta.
From what I hear, the Nutella flavor came through into the light, fluffy pancakes, and the “Foster” sauce acted as a rich, maple syrup substitute. After a giant stack, the birthday girl was asleep in a food coma on the couch, relaxing the day away. Hopefully, they weren’t too good and they can wait another year before I have to make them again.