I tend to like just about anything shredded into a pile and then fried up crisp. The most obvious example are hash browns, but this also works surprisingly well with a number of other food items. Hash browns are well and good, but they get old after awhile, and they also tend to be highly associated with that unpleasant “python after a feed” sensation after meals. I wanted something a bit lighter, as well as just different. So, after looking up a recipe upon request for a friend, I stumbled across Mark Bittman’s vegetable pancakes. Sounded good to me.
Now, there’s a reason the name of Bittman’s NYT foodblog is “The Minimalist”. Most of the appeal and utility of his recipes lies in that they are designed to be extremely modular; spices, seasonings, and even main ingredients can be swapped around at will to create new variations on the same basic theme. This is fantastic if you need to substitute a lot of things, but it’s not so great if your skills aren’t all that developed yet and you could use some more direct hints in how to take it from basic to specifically tasty. So, for purposes of added zazz, I decided to combine the basic Bittman model with another summer squash pancake recipe.
Bittman ingredient list:
About 1 1/2 pounds grated vegetables, peeled first if necessary (3 cups packed), and squeezed dry
1/2 small onion, grated; or 4 scallions
1 egg or 2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1/4 cup white or whole wheat flour, more or less
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive or vegetable oil or butter for greasing the pan
Well, that’s general, as it’s meant to be. I used yellow summer squash because it was available and because I just like the stuff, and four scallions because I had some left over from the twice-baked cauliflower endeavor. Not too much in the way of flavor suggestions there, so I’ll look at the About.com recipe…
* 3 cups grated yellow summer squash or zucchini
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
* 1 medium clove garlic, minced
* 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
* 1 large egg
* 1 cup biscuit mix
* dash pepper
* milk, as needed
Fresh parsley I don’t have, so it goes. Garlic? Never a bad idea. Biscuit mix? Eh, I’ll stick with flour- if we have any Bisquick left it’s long since weevil chow. I like that Parmesan idea and I still have some grated also left over- in it goes. On to the actual process.
Heat the oven to 275°F. Grate the vegetable or vegetables by hand or with the grating disk of a food processor.
1. Eyebrow at the oven instruction since we’ll be frying these babies and skip that for now. Gee, that’s a lot of vegetable. Does our food proccessor have a grating disk? It does! Spend the next ten minutes figuring out how grating disk fits to food processor, noting spouse’s very explicit instructions as to the right side to face up of the grating disk. Assemble all your ingredients and tools. Noting that the only mixing bowl options available are “kinda teeny” and “omg wtfhuge”, select the smaller one. Once you have retrieved an appropriate measuring cup and determined just how much volume three cups occupies, swap it out for the huge one.
2. Take your three yellow squash and resolve to grate them until the three-cup mark of your measuring cup is met. Slice off the ends and cut to fit the feeding tube of your food processor. Stuff a piece into the processor; such an array of choices! Probably best start with “low”.
3. GOSH. Good thing you didn’t go to “high”; that must be for disposing of bodies or something. Adopting the “pulse” setting is a good idea too. Feed all pieces into the processor, then transfer first grated squash into your measuring cup, which turns out to require partial disassembly of the processor.
Optional: Step on the cat’s tail again. At this point it’s getting to be a tradition. What the hell he expects in the way of treats out of grated squash is a mystery anyway.
4. Repeat the procedure with the second squash. Hey, wait a minute. Why is it coming out in slices instead of gratings? Analyze the mystery, as well as the question of whether you can use the slices instead of gratings and even if you could, if it would go okay with the previous grated stuff. With spouse’s help, come to the conclusion that no you can’t, and get to the bottom of the mystery: you put the grating disc in upside-down, and now it functions as a slicer. Didn’t we buy him a mandoline for this?
5. Put the regular blade back in the food processor and stuff the sliced squash in. Now you have shredded squash, which is close enough to grated for kitchen work. As you start over again with the grating disk the right side up this time and the third squash, have a hearty chuckle as you realize how completely you have defeated the purpose of the food processor as a time-saving instrument. On the bright side, it turns out that three medium-to-large squash equate to three cups of grated squash and you have neither a math problem nor a leftovers problem.
6. Reason that if four scallions is equivalent in the original recipe to half a small onion, what must be meant is you should cut off and grate up the white parts of the scallions*. Now it’s time to discover that very small, round alliums don’t grate gracefully. At all. Pick the usable bits from the inside of the food processor and throw those in, even though they represent about a third of your original scallion volume, if that.
7. Having learned a lesson with the scallions, choose to use the garlic-mincing gewgaw on the one clove of garlic that your spouse bought on a whim some time ago. Locating and assembling the mincer, then re-assembling it in the correct fashion, then using it, will give you more time to reflect that the chef’s knife would have been a lot faster.
Mix together the vegetables, onion, egg, and 1/4 cup of the flour. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add a little more flour if the mixture isn’t holding together.
8. Crack an egg into the mixing bowl and beat it until the yolk and white seem reasonably combined, then dump in all the grated vegetables and the flour and cheese. Select a reasonbly non-heat-conducting spoon you can use at the stove, and mix until everything seems, well, mixed. It kinda sticks together; that’ll probably do.
10. Read through the rest of the recipe before starting the heat phase. Turns out we were supposed to preheat the oven so we could keep the first pancakes warm in there while doing the rest in batches. Oh. Well, it won’t take the oven too long to get up to that… go ahead and turn it on. 275 probably isn’t necessary, especially since you intend to line the pan they sit in with paper towels- 200 will be fine.
Put a little butter or oil in a large skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted or the oil is hot, drop in spoonfuls of the batter, using a fork to spread the vegetables into an even layer, press down a bit.
9. Butter’s always better, right? Select the skillet you usually use when you want to quickly fry up a couple of eggs, then put a big chunk of butter in the pan, turn the heat to medium-high, and push the butter around until it’s all melted. Put in a couple of scoops of the veggie mix and press down as directed; looks like this pan’ll fit about three, maybe four if you hadn’t slapped the first one down right in the middle.
Work in batches to prevent overcrowding. Cook, turning once, until nicely browned on both sides, about 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.
10. Is the butter supposed to turn that color? It’s going from clear to red to black. It’s kinda smoking, too. Crap. Consult spouse; turn down the heat some. Try to flip the pancakes. Discover that no, that batter really wasn’t sticky enough. Eventually, wrestle each “pancake” over onto its other side (the previous one having acquired the same ebon shade as the butter), and fumble it onto the paper towel-lined cookie sheet and pop into the oven. Pour off the remainder of the butter, transfer pan to a cold burner, and cautiously apply a generous amount of vegetable oil, which spouse informs you has a much more forgiving smoke point. Put the pan back on the medium-high burner.
11. Apply more scoops of batter as per instructions. This time you can fit four if you use your space judiciously. Turning them over is still a high-tension event necessitating a fork, a spatula, and a healthy dose of luck, though it goes a bit better than the first batch did.
12. While the pancakes are browning on their (more or less) opposite side, sprinkle some more flour in on the remaining batter; about a quarter of the three-quarter cup you used should do. Once you can manipulate a pancake up off the pan well enough to see it’s thoroughly browned on the bottom, persuade, cajole, and mangle the pancakes onto the pan you pulled back out of the oven, then pop it right back in.
13. Scoop in the remaining batter and proceed as before. Man, that extra flour made a LOT of difference, didn’t it? These aren’t a total dream to manipulate, but you can flip all four pancakes without mauling even one of them. Transfer to warming pan as before. Have a taste of the most wretched-looking pancake. Hey, guess what you forgot? That’s right, bitch: the salt and pepper. Fortunately, those can be sprinkled on the final product instead of cooked in to no ill result.
As steep a learning curve as the frying process turned out to be, these actually turned out fairly tasty, and could only be improved with the removal of the ineptitude. Next time I’d either use the half an onion, or chop up and include the entirety of the scallions, or just up the garlic- they could have used more allium kick. I’ll also either use a full cup of flour, or add about a teaspoon of cornstarch- I’d like to minimize the extra flour if I can, and cornstarch has better thickening power. We’ll see. Either way it’s a make-again- we ate all of them, even the saddest and most burnt/mangled ones, and they went down a treat with some Breda pork. Absolutely no stuffed-python sensation, either- just happily full.
Note: Spouse is still shouting that I need binding more than thickening. I’m noting the amount of water in the bottom of the bowl before the “batter” was done and thinking thickening might be all I need. I could always add another egg- what say you, blogaudience?
Note two: How is it that I am only now noticing the “squeeze dry” part of the vegetable grating instructions in the quoted recipe? That would have helped a lot, too.
*This reasoning is incorrect. It would have been better if I’d just chopped the green parts and used those.