“Zucchini—it isn’t just for dinner anymore!”
As I whipped up our breakfast this past weekend, I kept imagining this as a useful advertising slogan for anyone who is, like me, trying to use up an explosion of squash coming out of the garden this time of year. It’s easy to get bored with eating it the same few ways, and it occurred to me this week that I had not tried many ways to incorporate zucchini into a breakfast dish. Sure, I have occasionally tucked leftover sauteed zucchini into an omelet, but I wanted something more interesting—something new. The weekend is the only time I venture beyond the most basic of breakfasts, and though I considered making a version of morning glory muffins (subbing zucchini for the usual shredded carrots), I wanted something simpler, and that’s what made me think of pancakes.
Shredded zucchini would cook quickly inside a pancake batter, I figured, and I could use up a decent amount of this summer vegetable (which is technically a fruit) that has overtaken my countertop and refrigerator. Fresh citrus—in the form of juice and zest from a lemon and an orange—would make the overall flavor of my zucchini pancakes bright and sunny, just like the Saturday morning we would enjoy them.
For the body of my pancakes, I used a tried-and-true recipe that already has its own health benefits. Unlike typical, carb-heavy pancakes, these are packed with protein, thanks to Greek yogurt, ricotta and whole eggs (which also offer an assist in leavening the batter). The only flour in the mix is white whole wheat (King Arthur brand), and I added a few quick shakes of ground cinnamon to spice things up.
What I love about these pancakes, other than the fact that they have lots of good-for-me ingredients, is that I don’t suffer any sugar shock effect a few hours after breakfast. Whole grains provide complex carbohydrates, which help keep blood sugar levels stable longer than highly processed white flours. And the protein from the yogurt, ricotta and eggs keeps my hunger at bay for hours. I have made these pancakes dozens of times, and this is the first time I’ve jazzed them up with extra ingredients, though it surely won’t be the last.
Grab an apron, and I’ll show you how easily I whipped them up!
The first step is to get the wet ingredients blended really well. A whisk is the best tool for this, or you could use an electric mixer. Get the mixture smooth and even, and then squeeze in the orange and lemon juices. Whisk it again to incorporate the juice and zest of the citrus fruits.
Next, blend in the shredded zucchini and flour mixture. I did this in stages, the same as I did recently for my Healthy-ish Zucchini Bread with Drunken Raisins recipe. You want to avoid overworking the mixture once the flour hits the batter, because excess stirring causes gluten to develop, and that results in a tough pancake. Stir or whisk in about half of the shredded zucchini first, then fold in half of the flour mixture, then the remaining zucchini and then the remaining flour ingredients. Folding is easy—use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to circle the bowl, turning the batter over onto itself. I did this “folding” action about 10 times, until I couldn’t see any unincorporated pockets of dry ingredients.
Any pancake or waffle batter performs best when it has a chance to rest several minutes after mixing, so I waited until the batter was ready before I began heating my range-top skillet. You can use a large cast iron pan or an electric skillet if that’s what you have. Heat the cooking surface over medium heat, leaning a little toward medium-low. This is a tricky thing, because every stove is different, and even different burners on the same stove can have a different heat output. I have found that the best way to ensure the temperature is right is to make a couple of small “test” pancakes. Your heat should be at the point that the first side of the pancake is golden brown at about the point that the edges begin to look dry on top. If it’s too brown, reduce your heat slightly and try another test pancake. If it’s too pale, increase the heat slightly and try again. It’s nice to have a test pancake for another reason as well—you get to sample the goods!
When you’ve confirmed the griddle temperature, carefully spoon or ladle out your pancakes onto the heated skillet or griddle, about 1/4 cup per pancake. Keep some distance between them for easy turning, and keep them relatively small to ensure the middle cooks through. Mine were no larger than the palm area of my hand, and I didn’t bother trying to make them in perfect rounds. The yogurt and ricotta make for a heavier batter than is typical for regular pancakes, so the visual cues for doneness are also different. You may not see large bubbles form and pop on the surface; watch for the edges to appear slightly dried out, and a little bit of swelling in the center of the batter. It should take about four minutes for the first side, and two more to finish them.
My camera angle didn’t quite capture the rising action of the pancakes after they were turned, but when you make them, you’ll see that they puff up quite a bit on the griddle. Every bite was fluffy, tender and satisfying, with the fiber goodness of zucchini and the light, sunshine-y citrus.
Serve these with real maple syrup or switch it up with a spoonful of warmed marmalade or tangy lemon curd.
Zucchini Sunshine Pancakes
- 1 cup plain, Greek-style yogurt (stir well before measuring)
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 3 large eggs (or 2 extra large)
- Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
- Juice and zest of 1/2 navel orange
- 3/4 cup shredded fresh zucchini, blotted dry with paper towels
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour (I like King Arthur brand)
- 3/4 tsp. baking soda
- 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
- Pinch of kosher salt
- Real maple syrup or warm marmalade, for serving
- Whisk together (or mix with electric mixer) the yogurt, ricotta and eggs until the mixture is smooth and even.
- Stir in juice and zest of lemon and orange.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
- Whisk or stir half of the shredded zucchini into the yogurt mixture. Add half of the flour ingredients to the bowl and fold gently with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to combine. Fold in the remaining zucchini, and then fold in the remaining flour ingredients, folding about 10 times to ensure all the flour is fully incorporated.
- Preheat griddle or skillet to medium/medium-low temperature. Allow pancake batter to rest during this time.
- Cook a test pancake to ensure heat is correct; the pancake should be golden brown on the first side when the edges appear dry on the top. Spoon or ladle about 1/4 cup of batter per pancake onto the skillet; the batter will be thick, but resist the temptation to thin it or spread it out into flatter rounds. Pancakes should be ready to turn after about 3 minutes. Stack them on a platter to keep them warm until all pancakes are cooked.
- Serve hot with real maple syrup or warmed marmalade.