With St. Patrick’s day approaching, it seems appropriate to venerate potatoes. I am of the considered opinion that there are not many foods better than potatoes. Maybe it’s the Irish in me, but these homely little tubers fill me with joy in most of their applications. Shredded and fried? Particularly fine.
Thus I was delighted by the prospect of this week’s Bittman, which was basically advocating potato-zucchini latkes:
“57. Zucchini and Potato Pancakes: Grate zucchini and potatoes; squeeze to drain. Combine with grated Parmesan, one beaten egg for every two cups of the vegetables, a little oregano and flour or fine bread crumbs until the mixture is sturdy. Shape into patties and shallow-fry until browned on both sides.”
I temporarily lost my mind and forgot to record the delicious process in photos, but managed to assemble my ingredients accordingly:
2 medium zucchini, shredded
2 medium russet potatoes, shredded (I used my box cheese grater for both veggies)
¼ – ½ cup flour
½ cup grated parmesan cheese (I used my microplane)
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup or so vegetable oil
Because I know they are so waterlogged, I plunked my shreds of zucchini and potato into a paper towel lined strainer and set them all aside for a few minutes to drip themselves a little drier. I set a griddle over two burners on my stove and started the oil heating over medium. In a flash of Alton-Brown-triggered inspiration, I also set my oven to 200F and put a baking pan with a cooling rack balanced in it inside so I could keep the little latkes warm as they came out of the oil.
I beat up the eggs with the cheese and oregano in a medium bowl, thinking this would help the herbs and salty tang of the parmesan incorporate more evenly. Then I added the vegetable tatters after pressing them firmly against the wire strainer to evict as much moisture as possible. I mixed them in with the eggs and started adding flour a tablespoon at a time until the mixture seemed to hold together well, almost like a pancake or waffle batter jammed with vegetables.
You could make these latkes any size you wanted, but I probably dropped about 1/3 cup onto my griddle at a time, pressing the batter down with the back of a serving spoon so the cakes were flat and as much of the batter as possible was in glorious, fry-tastic contact with the oil.
When the first side was golden and the outer perimeters were crisp, I flipped over the cakes. They probably took 4-5 minutes on each side. After this long oil sizzle, I slid each finished latke onto my oven rack rig to keep in warm while frying the rest of the batch.
I served these with sour cream for N. and applesauce for me. The applesauce, which I found at Trader Joe’s, was really more like cinnamon-spiced cooked apple chunks – they weren’t broken down enough to rightly be called a sauce, which in my opinion made them even nicer. While my peanut butter must be smooth, my applesauce must be chunky. In fact, the chunkier the better.
As latkes go, these were fairly stellar. The irregular shape they made as I pressed them against the hot oil ensured super crispy edges sticking out on all sides. They were just greasy enough to leave your fingertips shiny, though we pretended not to notice by using forks. The zucchini added a suggestion of green juiciness, and I had to remind myself again that these are not hash browns. Because they contain flour and eggs, they are moister, fluffier and denser all at once – real little cakes rather than just fried potato bits, which made them substantial enough to have as a main dish, especially when accompanied by a nice Caesar salad.
This one was definitely a win. I usually add grated onion to my latkes, but I didn’t miss it in this incarnation. Maybe having two vegetable flavors eradicated the need for onion. In fact, given how tasty the sauteed shreds of butternut squash were a few weeks ago, I think this combination should remind us to expand our minds to the possibilities of the sorts of vegetables that can be latke-ized. It seems to me any winter squash (or summer squash, for that matter!) and any tuber could be combined to produce delicious results. Potatoes do seem like a necessary base, since they provide sufficient starchiness to hold things together, but zucchini, butternut or acorn squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, even parsnips would make for lovely combinations and interesting flavors. Outside the traditional applesauce and sour cream, you could drizzle them with maple syrup, or tzatziki, or even a soy-based reduction. You might think of them like inside-out vegetable tempura. And then rejoice, because what you are consuming is just plain delicious.