We grew up eating a lot of corn. A summer staple, we always ate it the way God made it – fresh from the cob. A quick roll in a stick of salted butter was the only addition. So, a little short on experience, I hatched a plan to serve corn fritters during this week’s Saturday morning Eastern Market demo. Fortunately God smiled on me just like he smiles on the corn.
Now, I make a mean zucchini pancake, so I had a few of the basics down, but I was certainly ready to accept some expert advice, which arrived in the form of Art Smith, Chef/Owner of DC’s Art and Soul and a return contestant on the current season on Top Chef Masters. It was test night, and once we had nailed down the recipes for a fresh plum soup and cold peanut-sauced soba noodles, I stepped out of the way.
If you have any doubts, Chef Art’s reputation as a top chef is well earned. It was a wonderful experience watching him bring the recipe together, instinctively finding the right texture and flavor. After a quick test batch he settled on a slightly thick batter, lots of corn and just a couple tablespoons of oil in the pan.
Thank you Art for a wonderful night! My kitchen definitely feels a bit hipper.
- 1/2 tbs salt
- 1 tbs baking powder
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1 cup corn meal
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
- 1/4 cup melted butter
- 1 tbs honey
- 4 ears corn, kernels removed
- 1/2 cup cheddar cheese
- Olive oil for frying
- Mix together dry ingredients – salt, baking powder, flour and corn meal – in a large bowl.
- Mix together wet ingredients – eggs, 1 cup buttermilk, butter and honey – in a second bowl.
- Purée one cup of corn in a food processor and add to wet ingredients along with cheddar cheese.
- Stir the remaining corn into the dry ingredients.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry and fold in gently just until mixed. The less you work it the better. Add additional buttermilk to get a wet, thick batter.*
- Heat 2 tbs olive oil in a 12” skillet and fry batter in 1/4 cup cakes.
- When solid enough, flip cakes and serve with syrup, fresh berries or salsa.
*Baking may be an exact science, but recipes aren’t. The moisture level of your dry ingredients can change the amount of liquid you need to add. The size of your eggs and the moisture in the corn will affect how much buttermilk you need. Don’t be afraid to play around with the amounts listed above, one tablespoon at a time.
If I were forced to identify only one dish that summed up my Mom’s cooking, one dish that burned bright in my memory and lingered on my palate years later, it would be – no, not apple pie, meatloaf or lasagna – zucchini pancakes. Amidst her Dilly Beans and mac and cheese, the Christmas Eve cheesecake and barbecued spareribs with artichokes, zucchini pancakes are the quintessential summation of Mom’s work in the kitchen.
They were born out of both creativity and desperation. They appeared late each summer when zucchini exhaustion set in and the dark green squashes grew larger and larger. With the din of dinner complaints rising, Mom found an exciting new way to put zucchini on the table. And could a recipe be any cooler? As anyone who has eaten zucchini bread knows, it is equally comfortable being both sweet and savory. We would joyfully sit down to a plateful, dripping in real maple syrup. They were practical, delicious, inventive and comforting. Stepping way out of the late 70’s comfort zone she created a family classic. That’s what you taught me in the kitchen Mom. That’s what I carry with me today.
I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit over the years. Bisquick gave way to potato starch whose flavor sits happily in the background. Fresh basil – and tarragon, when I have it – replace parsley. The ratio of zucchini to batter is much higher. Less like breakfast cakes, the ones I make today are cooked over medium low heat, getting brown and crisp on the outside while remaining wet and gooey inside. These days I usually serve them with a yogurt sauce, bright and fresh with mint and paprika or cayenne. But I have to admit, maple syrup is still my favorite.
Mom’s Zucchini Pancakes
- 4 cups grated zucchini, about 2 medium
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tbs fresh basil, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 1/4 tsp Spanish Paprika
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup potato starch
- Cream, as needed
- 1/2 cup yogurt
- 2 tbs chopped mint
- Paprika or cayenne
- Place grated zucchini in colander, sprinkle with 1 tsp salt and leave for 15-20 minutes.
- Squeeze water from zucchini with your hands and place in large bowl with egg, basil, garlic, parmesan, paprika, pepper and potato starch. Mix. If the batter is too dry, stir for a minute and then add a tablespoon or two of cream as needed. This is pretty thick batter.
- Mix together the yogurt, mint and paprika or cayenne to taste.
- Cook one small pancake to check seasoning and adjust with additional salt and pepper, fresh basil and cheese, as needed.
- Cook over medium-low heat in 2-3 tbs pancakes, turning once. The low heat allows the outsides to get crispy and brown, while the centers remain creamy.
- Serve pancakes with a dollop of the yogurt sauce.