The French have their CREPES, the Scots their BANNOCK, and the Americans their FLAPJACKS. So it comes as no surprise that Russians have their own version of the PANCAKE –the BLIN, which is a staple with a long history.
The ancient Slavs used blini for food sacrifices in their pagan rituals and saw in blini an appropriate symbol of round, warm, golden sun. Women who had recently given birth were fed blini. These were also served at weddings and at funerals, so they figured in peoples’ lives from birth to death.
Russians today usually make blini with wheat flour, but other flours can also be used.
RECIPE FOR BUCKWHEAT BLINI
120 grams buckwheat flour
120 grams wheat flour
20 grams butter, melted
720 milliliters or so of milk
30 grams sugar
Pinch of salt
PREPARATION: Mix buckwheat flour with 240 milliliters of milk. Heat another 240 milliliters of milk, and add it to the batter, mixing well. When the batter has cooled, mix in the dry yeast. Let the batter rise until it doubles in size.
Whip the batter with a wooden spoon, adding salt and sugar. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites. Add the egg yolks, warm melted butter, and the wheat flour to the batter, mixing well. Separately whip the egg whites, and add them to the batter along with additional milk as needed. Allow the batter to rise once again.
Heat a frying pan, and brush it lightly with oil or melted butter. Pour just enough blin batter to coat the pan, as thin layer as possible.
Cook over low heat until the underside of the blin is golden. Turn the blin over, and cook it for 15 seconds more. Transfer to a plate, and keep the blin warm while repeating the steps with the remaining batter. Serve the blini stacked.
The batter is generally prepared with milk or water or a mixture of both. But the batter can also be made with cream, buttermilk, kefir, sour cream, or any other milk product. Frying blini is considered an art because each blin should be as thin as possible –a goal not easily achieved!
Making the filling is said to be a science. The filling can be a homemade jam, such as raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, red or black currant, or cranberry. Or the filling can be anchovies, minced meat, or cottage cheese –served separately or in combinations. But the classic Russian filling is red or black caviar. And remember, blini taste best when they are HOT off the griddle!
King Ferdinand I [1751-1825] is said to have disguised himself as a commoner and, in clandestine fashion, visited a poor neighborhood in Naples. Why the secrecy? One story has it that he wanted to sink his teeth into a food that the queen had banned from the royal court –pizza.
If Ferdinand were alive today, he would have no trouble indulging his appetite. Currently, there are some 30,000 pizzerias in Italy, and each year they produce enough pizzas to serve 45 to each inhabitant.
Pizza may have originated in Naples about 1720. Back then, pizza was primarily for the poor, a “fast food” that was sold and consumed outdoors. Vendors would traverse the streets loudly calling out to advertise their tasty delicacies. The pizzas were kept warm in a scudo, a copper receptacle that was carried on the vendor’s head.
King Ferdinand 1 eventually made his penchant for pizza known to the royal court. Before long, this street delicacy won such favor that even members of the wealthy elite and the royal class began flocking to pizzerias. Ferdinand’s grandson, King Ferdinand II, went so far as to have a wood-burning oven built in the garden of Capodimonte Palace in 1832. Thus, he was able to keep his aristocratic guests happy.
Today, pizza is a favorite food of young people, but a word of caution is in order. To be considered nutritious, pizza should be made from healthful ingredients that are balanced in carbohydrates, proteins, and fats and that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
OLIVE OIL is a recommended ingredient in pizza. It promotes the formation of HDL, describe as “the good type of cholesterol that helps clean the arteries.”
Furthermore, when pizza is cooked well, it rarely causes digestive problems. In part, this is because the carbohydrates in the flour receive an ample amount of hydration during the kneading and leavening process. Meanwhile, the presence of complex carbohydrates contributes to a full feeling, which usually helps keep even the most enthusiastic pizza lover from overindulging.
The next time you indulge your penchant for pizza, recall its humble origins. And be glad that King Ferdinand I did not keep his love for pizza a secret.
AMAZING FACTS ABOUT PIZZA
1. Pizza is best cooked in a wood-burning oven. The smoke that is released during cooking gives the pizza a delicate aroma, while the thin layer of ash on the bottom of the pizza gives it a delicious taste.
2. The world’s biggest circular pizza was made in 1990. Its diameter measured more than 37 meters, and it weighed more than 12,000 kilograms!
3. The age-old custom of throwing pizza dough into the air and rotating it is not just for show. The centrifugal force that is created flattens the dough into a disk with a slightly raised border –a perfect base for a pizza!