Thursday, March 20, 2008

Inspiration: Zucchini Fritters

Spring is taunting us. It’s sunny, then it clouds over and spits rain. The air is warm, then a quick breeze whips out of nowhere and chills you. To improve matters, I’ve been having a kind of rough time at work lately, which led to my working from home last Friday. After a few hours, I felt the need to cook something, to cheer me up. Problem was, nothing looked appealing. I felt like I’d been kind of heavy on the baked goods lately, so I nixed anything like that. What I really needed was something for lunch, but everything either took an hour, or used ingredients like bar-b-qued duck that I didn’t have on hand.

Then, as is often the case, I saw something that looked like it might be right, and then I saw it again. Fate, I decided, had led me to the zucchini fritters. I came across them first in The Barefoot Contessa At Home by Ina Garten. Then they were part of a menu in Donna Hay magazine called Friends for Lunch: Grazing. The Barefoot Contessa called for shredded zucchini, while Donna Hay called for ribbons, and served them with a “lemon aioli.” A fried vegetable that gets served with garlic mayonnaise? Where do I sign?

Both recipes were for simple flour and egg batters with zucchini in them. I used a vegetable peeler to strip the zucchini into wide ribbons edged in dark green, but have since decided that cutting the zucchini into rounds with the peeler is the way to go. Frankly, I’m pretty lazy, and grating is way too much work, while ribbons makes them hard to cook. Cutting the zucchini into rounds makes them slip into an approximately disklike shape fairly easily. The ribbons required a certain amount of rearranging to get the fritter into a pleasing and fritter-like configuration.

Ina Garten called for some grated red onion, Donna Hay for some chopped mint. In a compromise, I used chopped chives. I felt the zucchini would need something peppy, like onion, but not as harsh as onion. Zucchini is kind of like your sweet, quiet friend who never has much to say until you get her on the right subject, and then she just sparkles. The fritters needed something to make them sparkle, but not something that would take over flavorwise.

The batter ends up being slightly soupy. It’s fried in either oil or a combination of oil and butter. I chose oil and butter for the flavor butter would give them the first time around, but the downside to that combination is that of course the butter darkens. A thin film of olive oil, or even a spray of cooking spray, works just as well.

Two spoons are helpful for picking up heaps of rounds or ribbons and slipping them gently into the pan to cook. During my first attempt, after a few minutes I flipped the first fritter over with a spatula, and was amazed. It was golden, crisp and lacy. After a few more minutes, I slipped it out onto a plate and cooked the rest of them. A word of warning—they really do require eight or so minutes of cooking time, even though they look done after only two or three per side. Heat regulation is the key. It’s a balancing act between keeping the flame high enough to keep the oil hot enough to cook the fritters, but low enough not to burn them.

I’ve read of serving zucchini fritters with ketchup, but the lemon aioli was too tempting. It turned out that the garlic in the aioli was just a little overpowering. Zucchini is such a delicate flavored vegetable that raw garlic is just too much for it. Lemon mayonnaise would be fine, with a little chopped garlic in the batter for that garlicy flavor.

I tried reheating these fritters for lunch a second day and as you might imagine, they’re pretty sog when you do (not helped by the fact that I did it in a microwave). I also tried holding them in a 200 degree oven for a little while. This can be done with greater success than reheating. It should probably be your absolute last choice, with your first choice being, eat them as soon as they’re cool enough to handle, but it’s a better choice than eating them cold.

Zucchini Fritters
adapted from Donna Hay magazine #35, and The Barefoot Contessa At Home
makes approximately 8 fritters

2 medium zucchini (about 5 ounces), cut into rounds with a vegetable peeler
½ cup self-rising flour
3 large eggs
¼ cup chopped fresh chives
Salt & pepper to taste

Combine zucchini, flour, eggs, chives, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Stir to combine.

In a medium skillet, heat a tablespoon (or so) of olive oil until a drop of water sizzles in it. Add about ¼ cup of the zucchini mixture and allow to cook until set, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat down and continue cooking about 5 more minutes. Flip fritter over and cook until underside is brown.

Fritters can be held in a 200 degree oven for ten or so minutes.

Lemon Aioli
from Donna Hay magazine, issue #35
Although I personally found this too strong, others may like it.

½ cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, crushed
Juice of ½ - 1 lemon (depending on how lemony you like things)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and set aside while fritters cook. Serve fritters with Lemon Aioli.

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