On a recent overnight trip to Williamsburg, I woke up disoriented and famished. Luckily, my host (we’ll call him that for now) was an ex-chef and he knew exactly how to satisfy my craving for good morning grub. We headed just east of the river to Diner, a hipster boxcar with a delightful menu. It sits beside Marlow & Sons (another restaurant worth a trip), shares the same kitchen and attracts a similar crowd. Once inside, we slid into an old-fashioned booth and ordered two cups of coffee. Our waitress was wearing 1950s-style glasses that rested on the bridge of her nose. She wrote the specials in pencil on our tabletop. One of the day’s specials was a zucchini pancake with smoked salmon, pickled summer squash, an herb salad and a dollop of crème fraiche. It sounded too interesting to pass up. It was so damn delicious that I immediately wrote down every identifiable ingredient (this is a practice that I have gotten into whenever I find a meal impressive). Later that week, I did a little grocery shopping and produced my own version of the Diner special. This time of year, there is an excess of summer squash and zucchini in the markets. With a basic understanding of culinary technique, just about any meal can be reproduced at home.
Zucchini Pancakes with Smoked Salmon (serves four)
4 medium-sized zucchini
1 small red onion, coarsely grated
2 egg whites; 1/4 cup flour
4 tablespoons canola oil
8 slices smoked salmon
1 tablespoon each of tarragon and basil leaves
1 tablespoon chopped chives
Pickled Summer Squash
Coarsely grate the zucchini into a sieve, salt liberally and let sit for 1/2 an hour. Press down on the zucchini several times and liquid will pour out the bottom of the strainer. Transfer zucchini to a large mixing bowl and add flour, salt, pepper and red onion. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they begin to form stiff peaks. Incorporate whites into the zucchini and mix until it resembles a batter. In a large frying pan, warm the canola oil on medium-low heat. Add the batter, two tablespoons at a time, and press down on each with a spoon to form a pancake. Once one side is golden brown, flip and brown the other. Then transfer to a paper towel to help absorb some of the grease. Do this in batches until the batter is exhausted. In a small bowl, toss the herbs with a little salt, pepper, white wine vinegar and olive oil. On each plate, lay down a couple of pancakes. Top each with two pieces of salmon, a dollop of crème fraiche and a little mound of the herb salad. Sprinkle the pickled squash around the side of the pancakes. Serve.