Monday, December 29, 2008

A Tale of Two (Potato) Pancakes

Some people wait all year for sweet spring asparagus. Some for the fruits of summer. I wait for potato pancakes.

Now granted, I am aware the potatoes are available much longer than a few precious weeks - heck, you can buy a 20 pound bag of them at the grocery store anytime you want. But growing up in a healthy home where 'frying' was pretty much a dirty word, the holiday season was always our small, indulgent window for such decadent preparations.

Being lucky enough to grow up Jewish and Italian, that means I have not one, but two different potato pancakes to look forward to each winter. Of course, there are those deliciously light and crispy latkes, the requisite shredded potato pancakes doused in sour cream and applesauce that grace our table come candle lighting time (though being a good red-blooded Midwesterner, I always preferred mine with ketchup). But in addition to this jewel of the Jewish culinary landscape, my mother also continues her family's post-Thanksgiving tradition, Italian potato pancakes (pictured above). Packed densley with leftover mashed potatoes and lots of parmesan and parsley, these cheesy, emerald-specked beauties couldn't be more different than my father's version. And yet, I love them every bit as much. What a nice little metaphor.

The holiday season may be over, but that's no reason that potato pancake season should be. I hope you try both. Ketchup is permitted. Just don't pick sides.

Italian Potato Pancakes
Leftover mashed potatoes (about 6 cups worth)
2 eggs
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup dried basil leaves
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2-4 tbsp flour, depending on how firm your mashed potatoes are

Flour, for dredging
Olive oil, for frying

Mix all ingredients by hand in a large bowl, adding less flour if your potatoes are stiff, more if they're creamier. (FYI, this dish is best with stiffer mashers, ones made with starchy potatoes and less milk). Form poatoes into patties, about 4 inches in diameter. Fill a large saute pan or an electric skillet with olive oil, at least 1 inch deep. Heat oil over medium high heat, 375 degrees for the electric fryer. As the oil is getting hot, dredge the pancakes in flour to coat; dust off excess. (It is best to do this right before frying, because if they sit too long the flour soaks into the potatoes). When the oil is hot, add the pancakes in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan. Fry until golden brown on one side, about 3-4 minutes, then flip and repeat. Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.

Potato Latkes
6 medium potatoes
1 small onion
1 tsp salt
1 egg
3 tbsp matzoh meal or breadcrumbs
½ tsp baking powder

Wash, peel and grate potatoes, then squeeze dry with paper or regular towels. Grate and add onion to potato, then add salt and egg and mix well. Mix in remaining ingredients. Drop by spoonfuls into hot oil that is deep enough to almost cover the latkes. Brown on both sides, drain and serve with applesauce and sour cream (or ketchup).

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