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Chapter 1: Soups, Salads, & Starters
As a rule, New Englanders don't much care to categorize their recipes according to when and how to eat a certain dish. Instead, dishes are served in different guises according to the season and the appetite. A plate of hot johnnycakes, for example, may be a filling, cold-weather breakfast or the start of an elegant dinner-or it may be the whole meal. The following recipes for starters, soups, and salads can be served as openers to more expansive meals or on their own as satisfying lunches, suppers, or even breakfasts if you've got a big day ahead of you.
RHODE ISLAND JOHNNYCAKES WITH COUNTRY HAM
Cornmeal pancakes are popular throughout New England, but nowhere are they taken as seriously as they are in Rhode Island. This savory adaptation makes a wonderful hors d'oeuvre or starter served plain or topped with a dollop of cr�me friache flavored with red onions, roasted garlic, or chives.
1. Preheat the oven to 200 F (95 C).
2. In a bowl, using a wooden spoon, stir together the cornmeal, salt, and sugar. Slowly stir in the boiling water, mixing until smooth and quite stiff. Let the batter stand for 5 minutes.
3. Stir in the grated onion. Add enough of the milk to make a batter the consistency of porridge. Stir in the ham and season with pepper.
4. Preheat a griddle or frying pan, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. Add about � tablespoon of butter. When the butter melts, spoon the batter onto the griddle or pan, using a tablespoon to make the bite-sized cocktail cakes or scant � cup (2 fl oz/60ml) to make larger cakes for a first course. Flatten the cakes with the back of a spoon so that they will cook evenly. Cook, flipping once, until nicely browned and very crisp on both sides, 3-4 minutes on each side for little cakes, and 5-7 minutes on each side for larger ones. Do not let the pan get too hot, or the cakes will cook too quickly. The inside should remain a bit moist, like polenta. Transfer to a platter and place in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining batter, adding more butter as needed to prevent sticking.
5. Johnnycakes are wonderful served plain, but you may dress them up as described in the note. If serving the cakes with cocktails, arrange them on a large platter for passing. If serving as a first course, divide among individual plates