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September 2014

Corn, Zucchini and Chickpea Fritters


I don't remember exactly how I stumbled on this recipe, I'm remembering vaguely that I had too many zucchini knocking around in the fridge and a can of chickpeas gathering dust (by the way, Hugo doesn't like beans, what is up with that?) and I probably did a search for a recipe that would use them up together, but the point is that by some stroke of internet luck, I happened on quick-dinner-gold that you need to know about, especially now with end-of-summer zucchini flooding markets. (Those of you with access to fresh, sweet, lovely, tender, beautiful, local corn, ENJOY IT YOU LUCKY DOGS YOU WHILE THE REST OF US MAKE DO WITH CANS SOB).

While I love the concept of vegetable fritters, I often find that in reality they aren't substantial enough for a dinner and they're too fussy for me to make as part of a larger meal. (I still think back almost weekly on the celestial tomato fritters that Max and I ate almost every night of our honeymoon in Greece, but refuse to attempt them at home because sometimes a memory has to be enough, you know?)

But these fritters, thrillingly, are hefty enough to be the whole dinner. The base is made up of chopped chickpeas, milk and flour. Baking powder gives the fritters some lift. To this you add a grated zucchini, a can of corn, some fresh herbs (I liked a mix of mint, basil and parsley) and sliced scallions. Then you dollop little portions in an oil-slicked pan and cook the patties until golden-brown and fragrant and irresistible on both sides.

You could serve these with garlic-spiked yogurt, but we ate them with hot sauce - Sriracha preferably, the sweet-hot-sour flavor livens up the fritters just perfectly. And to go out onto a limb, I imagine that a more bean-interested child would probably be happy to gobble these up unadorned, making this family-dinner material (wouldn't you say, Jenny?)

Now I need to go contemplate what other vegetables one could stuff into these things successfully and craft plans to get Hugo to eat even just one chickpea. One! Could it be that hard?

Corn, Zucchini and Chickpea Fritters
Serves 3 to 4
Note: The original recipe is Australian, hence the metric measurements. A 310-gram can of corn is approximately 11 ounces, so I'd suggest using 3/4 of a 15-ounce can of corn. You can of course use fresh or frozen corn instead.

1 400-gram (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained, rinsed
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large zucchini, grated
1 310-gram can corn kernels, drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon chopped basil leaves
3 sprigs chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 scallions, thinly sliced
Vegetable oil
Sriracha sauce or other hot sauce for serving

1. Process chickpeas until roughly chopped.

2. Whisk milk and eggs in a measuring cup. Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Gradually add milk mixture to flour, whisking until smooth. Stir in chickpeas, zucchini, corn, herbs and scallions.

3. Cover a large frying pan with a thin film of oil. Heat over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup mixture to pan. Spread slightly with a spatula. Repeat to make 3 more fritters. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes each side or until golden and cooked through. Transfer to a plate. Cover to keep warm. Repeat with remaining mixture to make 12 fritters, replenishing the pan with oil between batches, if necessary. Serve with hot sauce.

How to Make Crostata

How to Make Crostata

Hello from the rolling Montefeltro hills! The verdict so far is that things are blissfully as they always are here: lazy, sunny, delicious, mosquito-filled.

We have not done much since getting here. Which is sort of the whole point, of course. There have been a few dinners with friends, an excursion to the beach or two, and there has been beer with lunch and dinner almost every day so far (we are nothing if not livin'-on-the-edgers).

Also, there has been a lot of crostata. Crostata is the very first thing I ever learned to bake. For a long while, it was the only thing I ever baked. It is, to explain, a jam-filled tart of sorts, except the dough is sort of cakey as well as crusty. It is eaten for breakfast and for dessert. It can be filled with any jam you like, though we are partial to sour ones like plum or sour cherry. A grade-schooler can master it and it requires nothing besides a countertop and a baking pan. I make one every couple of days since that's about how long they last.

In the grand tradition of Italian desserts, crostata is a little dry and almost aggressively simple. I would urge you to resist attempts to fancy it up.

I suppose it will be the first thing I teach Hugo how to bake one day. He is showing more and more interest in what I get up to in the kitchen these days. I plop him on the counter next to me and he watches as I knead pizza dough or helps measure oats when it's time for oatmeal. For now, though, he's content just eating crostata. And I'm happy to still be the one tasked with making it.

How to Make Crostata

A few notes on the recipe:

1. I've given you both metric and US measurements, but I haven't tested it with the US ones yet.

2. If you have access to Italian "00" flour, you can use that instead of all-purpose. If you don't, no sweat.

3. The baking powder here in Italy is conveniently flavored with vanilla. If you happen to have access to Pane Degli Angeli baking powder, you need half a packet. If not, use 3/4 teaspoon (8 grams) of regular baking powder and then add either a spoonful of vanilla sugar or of vanilla paste/extract.

4. The eggs here are smaller than in the US, so I've noted "medium" eggs. If you can't find those, you can use large but you may need to use a bit more flour as you go.

5. The butter must be very soft to be able to be quickly incorporated by hand into the dough. Let it sit out overnight before making the crostata.

6. My favorite jams in crostata are sour ones. Sour cherry, plum and apricot are all great choices. But you should feel free to choose whatever jam you like. You can even divide the crostata in half and fill it two different jams for variety. As for other fillings, there is such a thing as Nutella crostata, just FYI.

Makes one 9-inch tart

200 grams / 1.5 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
50 grams / scant 1/4 cup sugar
8 grams / 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Grated peel of 1/2 organic lemon
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract if not using Pane Degli Angeli baking powder
2 medium eggs, room temperature
50 grams / 3.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
About 1/2 jar sour cherry or plum jam

1. Heat the oven to 180 C / 350 F. Dump the flour onto your work space and make a well in the middle. Sprinkle the salt, sugar and baking powder into the well, making sure to sift out any lumps in the latter. Add the grated lemon peel and vanilla flavoring, if using. 

2. Crack the two eggs into the well and, using your finger, stir them gently to break up and start incorporating into the dry ingredients. Then add the very soft butter and continue to stir until a rough dough starts to come together. Knead gently until it is smooth and uniform. Try not to overwork or add too much additional flour, but don't overthink things either; this is not pie crust.

3. Pull off a quarter of the dough and set aside. Pat the remaining dough evenly into a 9-inch pan and make sure to push the edges of the dough about 1/2 an inch up the sides of the pan to create a crust.

4. Spoon the jam into the crust and spread out evenly. Pinch off small pieces of the remaining ball of dough and roll them out into strips of varying length that you lay on top of the jam to create a lattice top.

5. Put the pan in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tart is browned and the jam is bubbling. Let cool on a rack for an hour before turning out of the pan. Keeps for several days at room temperature.