I remember thinking that food stamps were the coolest things. I was too young to understand what that meant – the fact that we had food stamps. Oh, I knew that we were strapped financially. There was a time when our kitchen table was a cardboard box. To a school age kid, food stamps meant we got to have choice. We got to pick out the cool cereal with marshmallows in it. And when I was young, they still came in different paper denominations, like money, not on a debit card that you can use more discretely at the grocery store. So when my dad gave me a $5 food stamp to spend with my friend, it meant we could go to the local market and buy chips and maybe even the coveted Hostess goodies my sister and I pined for. I am lucky that my memories of this hard time for my parents was mostly fun. And I’m glad to have had those experiences because it makes me that much more grateful for the abundance I have on my kitchen table today.
So for these reasons and so many more, I am so moved by the idea of starting a giving garden, the lawn I’ll be transforming to grow food for the food bank. This is also why I feel like it’s no coincidence that opportunities keep dropping in my lap for me to be involved in the food bank gardening movement. Like how I met my dad’s friend, Deb, who happened to be at that same Lettuce Link fundraiser I was at a few weeks ago. I just didn’t know it. We discovered through our conversation that she’s the one behind the concert event, Blues for Food, which my dad has played in in the past. The fundraiser raises awareness and money for local food banks, local musicians, and the P-Patch Trust.
And it’s through this serendipitous meeting that Deb asked me to be involved in the promotional bit on a local news channel to promote the upcoming musical event. I would do a cooking demonstration to show folks how they could use the seasonal produce that’s being donated to food banks right now. Develop a simple recipe, five ingredients or less, something you could make on the cheap. But I’m not a chef, I thought to myself. Why should anyone listen to me or care about what recipe I make? (Yes, you should know I sometimes go through bouts of self-doubt.) And the truth is, it’s because I cook, I put to use my seasonal ingredients, and I most definitely have had to cook and eat on a budget in my days.
So, I set out to rework a recipe of Poppy’s (my grandpa), the food gardener that had much experience eating and cooking from his land. Especially zucchini. So here it is. A recipe for zucchini pancakes that I made and ate more of this past week than I have in my entire life, in order to perfect this recipe. This is down-home cooking that can stretch on a budget. And as an added bonus, it will use two pounds of that prolific zucchini we’re always trying to use up. So I’m signing off today feeling pretty grateful for all the bounty I have on my plate these days. And hope that my efforts will make it so other folks can share in my abundance as well. Even if it is just zucchini.
Through all of my zucchini pancake trials, I discovered a really delicious variation to this recipe. Swap out the flour for masa harina (about the same amount) and dredge in cornmeal instead of flour. The result is amazing!Â
2 pounds zucchini. shredded
1 egg, slightly beaten
about 3/4 cup of flour, plus more for dredging
fresh basil leaves (a good handful?), sliced into thin ribbons
1 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
Canola or olive oil
Shred the zucchini and place it onto a clean towel (you may have to do this in two batches). Wrap the towel up around the zucchini and wring out the towel over the sink as hard as you can to release whatever excess moisture you can. Open the towel, fluff the zucchini up again and place into a large mixing bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients, adding enough flour (about 3/4 cup) until the mixture holds together somewhat. This will be a little awkward and the ball you are able to form with the zucchini will be pretty loose, but should be able to sort of hold together.
In a large skillet, heat about 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Use a good amount of oil here – enough to coat the bottom of the skillet pretty well. This will result in a more uniformly crisp exterior. But also make sure the oil is hot enough or the patties won’t brown well and instead will just become sponges for oil. On a plate covered in flour, roll the ball around in the flour. Your hands and fingers will mainly just be working to keep the ball/patty together. Test the oil in the pan to make sure it’s hot enough (you’ll get a little splattering if you flick a drop of water into the oil). Put the ball/patty in the pan and press down with your fingers (very carefully though!) or spatula. I found it easier to flatten them into the shape of a patty using this method rather than in my hand first. You may lose a few shreds of zucchini to the back of your spatula, but that’s ok. Continue with a few other patties, just don’t overcrowd the pan. In my skillet, I could fit about 3.
Once you’ve got the patty in the pan and flattened, leave it there. Don’t touch it or try and move it around. Let it brown, about 7 minutes. When it seems like it’s getting close, slip the spatula under the edge of one to peek underneath and check for brownness. Flip and cook on the other side for another 7 minutes or so. Remove from the pan and place on a plate lined with a paper towel that can absorb some of the excess oil. Eat immediately with pretty much anything.
I tried to keep this recipe super simple, but you could always embellish it by adding minced onion and grated parmesan to the mixture too. Zucchini is so versatile and this makes a great side dish. I found that by the next day, when the pancakes kind of lost their crisp coating, I could heat up a few, drizzle them with maple syrup, and eat them like pancakes. And I thought they were delicious. So it’s a meal that will be savory one day, and sweet breakfast the next! 🙂
This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday.