- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Side dishes wield much more weight than the name implies. I think of them as supporting actors who help the lead shine in a play. Nevertheless, most of the time when planning a dinner menu, I decide on the main course and then as an afterthought pick the accompaniments.

Typically, a seasonal vegetable paired with a potato, pasta or rice accompaniment are garnishes I choose for meat or poultry entrees. However, there are far more creative side-dish possibilities, as I recently discovered.

A few weeks ago, I was testing a recipe for Parmesan tuiles (French for “tiles”), made by quickly cooking a mixture of grated cheese and a little flour in a nonstick pan until the cheese melts and forms a thin round.

Although these little cheese crisps were good, it occurred to me that I could increase the flour and add some milk and melted butter to the mixture and make savory pancakes.

For several days, I worked on balancing these basic ingredients correctly. I wanted the pancakes to be more substantial in texture than tuiles, but still golden and crisp.

Once a simple formula was achieved, I couldn’t stop making them. They were delicious served with broiled lamb chops, grilled steaks and roasted chicken.

I also found that I could serve them topped simply with fresh herbs or dress them up a bit. On one occasion, I mounded them with a colorful melange of sliced cooked asparagus and slivers of prosciutto.

When entertaining, most people like to avoid cooking dishes at the last minute, and these delectable creations can be made several hours ahead, then reheated for a few minutes at serving time. More important, these tempting savory Parmesan pancakes will rescue your guests from side-dish boredom and make a lasting impression.

Savory Parmesan pancakes

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano

cup flour

teaspoon ground black pepper

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

cup low-fat milk

1 tablespoons chopped chives

1 tablespoons chopped scallions, including 2 inches of green stem

Arrange a large brown paper bag or a large sheet of parchment paper on a work surface so that you can place the pancakes on it to drain as they are cooked.

Combine cheese, flour and pepper in a medium bowl and whisk to mix. Melt the butter in a small pan over moderate heat and set aside. Then place a medium nonstick skillet or nonstick griddle over medium-high heat while you finish assembling the batter.

Whisk the butter and milk together in another bowl and pour into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Whisk until all ingredients are well-blended. Mixture will be very thick.

As soon as the skillet or griddle is quite hot, start to make the pancakes. Ladle 2 tablespoonfuls of the batter onto the bottom of the ungreased skillet or griddle. Continue, making two more pancakes. (Don’t crowd the skillet or griddle. The pancakes cook quickly, and you will need to turn them as soon as they are done on one side.)

Flatten each pancake into a round about 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Let the pancakes cook until they are completely set around the edges and bubbling, about 1 to 2 minutes. Then, using a metal spatula, gently lift each pancake and turn over.

If pancakes seem runny and are difficult to turn, cook a few seconds or a minute more until they can be turned easily. Cook on the other side until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove pancakes with a spatula to brown paper bag or parchment paper to absorb excess moisture.

Continue to make pancakes in small batches until all batter has been used. You should get 8 to 9 pancakes. (The pancakes can be cooked 3 to 4 hours ahead. Cover loosely with foil and leave at cool room temperature. To reheat, remove pancakes from brown paper or parchment paper to a baking sheet and place in 350-degree oven about 5 minutes or until hot and crisp.)

To serve, arrange pancakes on a serving platter and sprinkle with chives and scallions. Makes 8 3- to 4-inch pancakes or enough for 4 servings..

Tribune Media Services International

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