Zucchine fritters

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While this recipe uses an Italian vegetable, the finished product is all-Greek, thus combining the different but complementary flavors of the Mediterranean. Zucchine derive from Italy but are a staple of the Mediterreanean cuisine, owing to the warm Mediterranean climate that extends its growing season from April through November. The name of this recipe in Greek, “kolokithokeftedes” is an absolute tongue twister, all seven syllables of it. I suppose you’ll have mastered the Greek pronunciation of it in about the time it takes to make them. Good luck with that. Or you can just call them as we do.

Summer is the time that this deep green squash is at its best. When you’re at the market or roadside stand, choose the smallest ones available, as larger zucchine tend to develop bitter flesh and bigger seeds. The freshest ones are stiff like carrots; pass on those that have gone limp or ones whose skins are not taut. We always make these whenever we find great zucchine in the market, as their sweetness is further enhanced by grilling or perfect for pairing with salty feta. They are perfect for ‘meze’, the traditional Eastern Mediterranean supper of a dozen small plates of dips, vegetables and meat or fish. For the modern palate, they can make an elegant lunch served with a mixed salad or as an offering for the cocktail hour. Last week, Ioanna stuffed some day-old fritters in warm pita with a little yoghurt: perfect picnic food discovered.

You can make these with either oregano or dill—just be sure it’s the fresh kind as it makes all the difference. With oregano found in so many other dishes in these parts, dill is the fresher and more exciting choice, though it’s a 50/50 split on which is the favorite here at Cerines.

Zucchine Fritters

Servings: 24-26 fritters, enough for 4-6 people as a main course, more if serving with other dishes

Drizzle a bit of olive oil in a skillet. Slice thinly and saute until translucent:
4-6 zucchine

Remove to a platter and spread in a thin layer to cool.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil in the same skillet. Slice into thin strips
1 large onion

Saute until translucent and develop a bit of color. Remove at once to a large mixing bowl and add:
4 scallions, sliced (white and light green parts only)
1/2 cup of fresh dill, chopped
70 gr/ 2 1/2 oz feta cheese
4 T graviera, kefalotyri or pecorino (any aged goat’s milk cheese will do)
1 tsp coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 fresh eggs, lightly beaten
6 Italian crispbreads, coarsely crushed (see Tips for Success below)
prepared zucchine

Mix until the ingredients are just incorporated. If the mixture appears too moist, add in more crispbreads. On a small tray, cover the surface with:
2 cups flour

•Heat the oven 120°C/250°F. Using an ice-cream scoop, drop 8 balls of the mixture onto the flour. Sprinkle the tops with some flour. Pick up each ball and form into a patty, dipping back into the flour as needed, smoothing out the sides with your fingers so that the patty forms an even thickness. Remove to a clean platter dusted with a little flour. Form the rest of the patties.

•In a skillet large enough to accommodate eight patties (they should not overcrowd the pan), heat enough olive oil to cover the surface of the pan. Prepare a small baking sheet covered with a paper towel for draining.

•To check that the oil has heated, wet the tip of your finger with clean water and flick a drop into the oil. If it sizzles immediately, the oil is ready. Keep the heat at medium.

•Carefully place the eight patties into the preheated pan, shaking off any excess flour. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until they develop a light golden color. Flip with a wooden spatula or fork and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Remove to the prepared sheet to drain. Place the fritters on a baking sheet in the oven to keep warm while you prepare the other batches.

•Check the level of oil and add more for subsequent batches, making sure the oil has been heated before adding the patties. Avoid over-browning.

•Serve on a platter with a dollop of yogurt and a sprig of fresh dill on each fritter, along with wedges of lemon to season.

Tips for success:
•you can use stale bread, croutons or melba toasts instead of Italian crispbreads (fette biscottate), but the Italian kind is bland enough not to add any unwanted flavor to the mixture. Its purpose is to add structure.

Luxury Touch: serve with tzantziki, a cucumber-yogurt-mint dip.

Did you know?

Zucchine, meaning small squashes, first appeared in Italy but are widely used in Mediterranean countries.  Outside of the basin, they are widely but mistakenly referred to as ‘zucchini’ in English speaking countries. Courgettes is the French word that is also used in Commonwealth countries, like the United Kingdom. In South Africa, it is picked when rather small and referred to as a baby marrow. Technically, this is a fruit and not a vegetable, as it is the swollen ovary of the plant’s edible flower, referred to as fior di zucca or squash flower.

•Keftedes are fried meatballs but the word also becomes a suffix, added to the end of the word to denote that the ingredient is mixed with bread and cheese and then pan fried: tomatokeftedes (tomato), melanzanokeftedes (eggplant or aubergine) and hortokeftedes (field greens).