Frying again

One of my current edible preoccupations is with small oblong rolls of buttery mashed potato, dipped in beaten egg and breadcrumbs, fried until golden brown texture like sun and consumed while extremely hot and crunchy. But before I ramble on – you know how I like to ramble on –  about potato croquettes, maybe it’s time we caught up, or started at least.

Don’t panic! I’m not about to come over all dramatic and toe curlingly revelatory – that post will hit your desktop sometime in mid March and will be accompanied by a free pocket pack of kleenex ultrasoft tissues and a miniature bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin. Today I just want to let you know where I’m at, fill you in so to speak, explain my erratic presence here, the unfamiliar pictures and kitchen and reassure you that Rachel is – despite the tumbleweed around here – eating.

Since November last year, when Vincenzo and I separated, I’ve been staying on the other side of the Tevere River in a quarter called Trastevere with my friend Betta. It’s been a very strange, sad and difficult time, but I’ve had a pretty perfect place to take refuge in. Betta’s rather unusual but beautiful flat is on the first floor of an eighteenth century building opposite Villa Farnesina on the ancient and precariously cobbled Via della Lungara. As I type this, I’m watching someone – looking rather shifty it must be said – having a sneaky cigarette behind an orange tree in Villa garden. Beyond the garden, peeping above the row of impressive terraced houses on the other side of the river is the cuppola of the church on Via del Monserrato. If I were to stand on tip toes and lean right out of the front window – we’re talking extreme, quite dangerous leaning here – I think I could just about see the cuppola of San Pietro.  I do hope this sounds like an advert for my friends flat because it is. Not actually the flat itself, but the magnificent room, I mean suite, next- door which Betta runs as a bed and breakfast. Cue jaunty jingle, appropriate link, end of ad.

Despite my sporadic presence on these pages, I have been cooking. It’s been strange and unfamiliar, without the stupendous Vincenzo, shopping at a new market, cooking in a new kitchen with unfamiliar surfaces, knives, pans, without my table. But I have been cooking. You know about the carbonara and amatriciana, there have also been gallons of soup, slightly obsessive quantities of roast chicken and – quite uncharacteristically – several batches of biscuits (all thanks to this terrific book by the exceptional and wonderful Mona Talbott and Mirella Misenti from the American Academy ) There have also been potato croquettes.

I’d never really considered the croquette before coming to Italy. I’d eaten them, primarily in St Georges school dining room between 1984 – 1989, providence – a Findus catering sized pack, fried two hours before consumption, floppy, sporting a soggy and suspiciously orange coat which concealed a gluey, unctuous filling that inevitably resulted in mild heartburn. Similar digestive challenges were presented by the potato croquettes I insisted on buying from dodgy fish and chip establishments in London after nights at the pub. It wasn’t all croquette horror though, I vaguely recall some rather good ones in France, Lyon I think, during the infamous exchange with Carolyn when I was 14. Unfortunately, the trauma of that particular trip rendered that particular food memory, along with several others: apricot tart, Toulouse sausage, partridge cooked with cabbage and croissant au beurre from Au Levain du Marais (I know, it’s a tragedy,) redundant.

I discovered the true potential of the potato croquettes in a pizzeria in Naples when one was hurled – think low flying and extremely well judged frisbee – onto my table along with a deep-fried zucchini flower: antipasti while I waited for my pizza to emerge from the oven. I knew straight away it wasn’t your average croquette, but even so, I still wasn’t particularly excited by the prospect of a cylinder of deep-fried mashed potato however golden it looked. Then I tasted.  Hot, crisp, crunch. The shell shattered giving way to an extremely soft, light, well seasoned, parmesan spiked, parsley flecked cushion of mash. I ordered another one immediately.

The croquette high was followed by various lows as I ordered and encountered much croquette disappointment – it seems many of the pizzeria in Rome, even some of the best, aren’t much more discerning than St Georges school dining room. Then, just as I was about to give up all hope I went to La Gatta mangiona in Monteverde and there it was, the second, a modest little roll, reassuringly wonky (those extremely neat ones are deeply suspicious) golden brown texture like sun. Hot, crisp, crunch on the outside, then inside a soft cushion of mash with a sliver of mozzarella hiding in the center.

A few days later, still humming and clucking about my croquette high (and pizza high for that matter, la saporita at la Gatta – buffalo mozzarella, capers and anchovies – is divine) and in possession of some left- over mash I decided to make my own wonky little croquettes.  Simple to start, no parmesan, parsley or mozzarella, just the well- seasoned buttery mash shaped into dumpy little cylinders, rolled in beaten egg, coated in breadcrumbs and then fried in a couple of inches of oil until crisp.

As with most of my kitchen firsts I thought I might need a couple of attempts to make a decent croquette, but on this occasion it was a case of croquette bingo. I have subsequently made less successful batches – not enough oil, premature shaping when the mash was not cool enough, adding milk to the mash made it too soft to shape, even when cool. Now in possession of modest croquette experience, in the knowledge of both croquette success and croquette failure, may I offer you the following advice. You want to make a nice firm mash: floury potatoes mashed with butter and seasoned generously. Allow the mash to cool for at least 30 minutes.  Make sure you coat the rolls carefully and generously with beaten egg and then with breadcrumbs. Fry them two or three at a time in a good two inches of oil and most important of all, if you want the crisp crunch – croquette from the French croquer means “to crunch” after all –  having scooped them out of the oil, give them a them a brief drain on some kitchen towel and then eat as soon as possible.

I repeat, no faffing around now, gather guests around the stove and eat as soon as possible . Ideally with a cold beer and deep-fried zucchini flowers.

Please note my croquettes are wonky because, as everybody knows, very neat croquettes – like very neat people and houses – are very, very suspicious indeed.

Potato croquettes

  • 450g /1lb  potatoes
  • 45g butter
  • salt
  • whole nutmeg
  • 1 large egg
  • cup of fine breadcrumbs
  • vegetable or olive oil for frying (I use olive oil)

Peel and quarter the potatoes and then cover them with salted cold water in a large pot, bring to the boil and then simmer until tender which should take about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes.

While they are still warm, mash the potatoes (or pass them through a potato ricer) with the butter and then season with salt and a good grating of nutmeg. Allow the mash to cool for at least 30 minutes.

Using your hands, scoop out a small ball of mash and shape it into an oblong croquette. Repeat this until you have 12 croquettes. Lightly beat remaining egg in a shallow bowl and put bread crumbs in another shallow bowl. Dip a croquette into egg, letting excess drip off, then roll it in the bread crumbs until well coated.  Sit the prepared croquettes on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet.

Heat 2 inches of oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Fry croquettes in batches, turning occasionally, until golden brown this will take 4 to 5 minutes per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Serve immediately.

yield: approx 12 croquettes

Having mastered the basics you can now begin your variations on a potato croquette theme – hiding a sliver of mozzarella at the center of the roll, enriching the mash with grated parmesan or pecorino, lifting it with finely chopped parsley or mint, making a mash of parsnip and potato, adding some salt cod…..

Thank you so much for all your kind and supportive messages, E mails and advice over the last few weeks. A particular thank you to Vincenzo who despite everything, has kept telling me, keeps telling me, to pull my finger out and get back into the rhythm of cooking, writing, reading, to get back here. It’s good to be back.


Filed under antipasti, food, potatoes, recipes

63 responses to “Frying again

  1. Ceri

    Great to see you back – we have missed you, and good luck with wherever 2011 takes you

  2. well i feel like an ass. i’ve missed your posts dearly, but realize now I failed to see that last paragraph of the last post, so missed proof that something was afoot. kicking myself that i didn’t send a message and big hug earlier. wishing i could hand deliver a pizza and beer and chocolate cake and cheer you. please know i am so glad you are writing and cooking and sharing and i think you are brave in the most real, funny, unsuspicious way. our lives are weirdly synched up again, i’m going through rough stuff too now. different, but tough on the heart. thinking of you and xo. (ps back to a bit of pasta and cheese now, thank the lord!)

  3. So, so good to read you… And so glad to hear you have a sweet little space of refuge. Those things are important to have, I think. xo

  4. Good to hear you’re frying again – was in Trastevere myself most of last weekend, I’ll have to meet up with you next time! 🙂 KI lived in the area myself for several months, once summer gets closer certain areas become unbearable to sleep in 🙂

  5. SRM

    do hang in there…we are all rooting for you. and once again, i have been checking here every single day since the last post, desperate for another and here it is. thinking of you and sending good thoughts your way!

  6. So sorry to read your news. Parting is very hard (I know believe me) but one never knows what the future might hold. My husband (on and off – so you see I DO know what I’m on about) and I are coming to Rome in July as a little treat for us both and really looking forward to it. Keep the faith – there is always hope however it may present itself. x

  7. kb in to

    really happy to see a post from you, and sad to hear that you’ve had a rough couple of months. its tough to get back to being yourself when you’ve lost what feels like part of yourself. good luck and looking forward to more recipes, sharing and that gin in march.

  8. laura

    Ben tornata! So sorry for the woes and can only wish you well. No advice but a BIG thank you for coming back.

  9. S Phillips

    Rachel, you have been missed. We delight when your name pops up on the mail list. Happy you are back giving us wonderful plates of food. Take care of Rachel and well wishes coming your way. We love you in the USA!

  10. I seem to be in the same place you are, though for different reasons. Cooking keeps the continuity of moving forward, even if cooking is done on auto-pilot. Cooking and eating reawaken pleasurable feelings. And aren’t we glad of it.
    Feel better. Keep cooking.

  11. How lovely to be back here and read you again. I’m so sorry for not being around here much and sorry too about you and Vicenzo. I know how tough it is moving out and trying to get through when you feel sad. It’s always wonderful to read about your life in Italy, especially with recipes like this. I’m going to confess to a terrible fear of frying but perhaps my love of croquettes outweighs it so Ishould really take the plunge and make them. Take care Rachel and hope this year goes better for you.

  12. So sorry to hear of your sad times.
    Your croquette’s look outstanding – I make these for my hubby on occasion although I am sure he would like them much more often.
    🙂 Mandy

  13. So glad to see your words here again Rachel. I would happily join you for a croquette, a beer and a chat today but failing that I’ll get the gin ready for mid March.

  14. and it’s lovely to have you back. Thank you for giving me yet another excuse to live in an untidy house. I am hoping to hear about those biscuits and soon. xx

  15. Glad you’re back though sorry to hear you’re going through a rough time. I LOVE potato croquettes. Thank you for the recipe!

  16. So happy to get this in my inbox today. Good to have you back!

  17. Chin up and keep cooking. I’m sorry to hear your news but I am glad that you are still in touch with each other. Talking about croquettes, they are really popular in Japan and my mother used to make them all the time (mixed with a bit of mince). Yum.

  18. Great comfort food. Great to have you back posting. Best wishes.

  19. TD

    So sorry to hear about all your recent troubles. I am sure with some luck, some good friends and plenty of good food you can pull through. The first photo of this post looked so unfamiliar that I wondered immediately if this was shot some where besides your Roman kitchen. Turns out it was, but the kitchen is still in Rome. Take care. Feel better soon.

  20. Rachel surfaces — yes! These little croquettes look fantastic. I so agree with your bit about neatness and suspicion. Take care, Denise

  21. Its a joy to see you back Rachel,and I hope your sadness is fading more every day. Sending warm thoughts your way. xx

  22. bea

    Oh but I missed you! I’ve been eating more fettuccine olio-limone e parmigiano than ever, in your honor…. I’m sorry, had no idea of your personal problems. Hope everithing turns out for the best (and it seems to me that if you are cookine and blogging again, the road downhill has already started)
    tip for the crocchette: you can prepare them in advance, egg and bread coating and all, and leave them in the fridge for, mmm I would say half a day or so.

  23. A big American YAY! You’re back! And your photos have a whole new light and perspective to them. Is it just the space or are you trying something different with your camera? Whatever it is, I like it. Big hug for a new beginning.

  24. That I have not yet attepted potato croquets suggests a gross oversight in my culinary education… Am going to have to give these ago – they look delicious.

  25. Cathy

    Hey, Rachel. Great to see your post. Sorry to read that you’ve been going through tough times, but it sounds as though you are coming out of the ‘fog’. Clearly you have supportive friends, great wine and of course, good food to help you. Here’s to happier times.

  26. Diana

    Oh, Rachel, they look beautiful! I have some potatoes I was planning to use for a plain old mash, but you’ve inspired me to use them for a higher purpose.

    It’s great to see you back! Be kind to yourself if it’s a struggle to get back into the rhythm, it is part of the process. Warm wishes to you all the way from Australia.

  27. Pinklemonade

    I’m mostly not one to leave a comment. But…here it is.
    I have been lurking around your blog for a few months now and feel that it’s only right to pop in for a virtual hug.
    I think you are very talented writer and a joy to read. I especially enjoy the titles of your posts that read like little stories. I will miss the kitchen table and lunch for two, but I’m sure your story will unfold in unpredictable and wonderful ways.
    keep on keepin on (i’m blushing)

  28. A croquette and beer – I don’t get nearly enough of that combo in my life. Good to see you back at the words.

  29. So, so glad that you’re back; you’ve been missed. And looking very forward to croquettes and beer, not necessarily in that order!

  30. suz

    So glad you’ve made it back! I’m glad you’re moving forward and cooking and blogging… I hope it helps! if it helps at all, you were missed. It’s so weird feeling like I know you the tiniest bit because I read your blog and then remembering that I really don’t know you at all… but I still wish you well! (lord I hope this doesn’t come out like a stalker email! I’ll hit post and hope for the best!)

  31. I saw the title and the first photo and said “oh no she isn’t” and read on and looked and drooled and concluded “oh yes she is” indeed she is deep frying mashed potato balls. My soul yearns for croquettes. Gosh I had somehow missed the separation story in the folds of your lovely blog and literally felt my heart drop when I read about it in this post. Funny, I made your lovely almond cookies to feel better after a pretty bad day last week and was just blogging about them today. Food helps. And your blog is wonderful and although I don’t know you I’ve read so many of your posts that I feel a certain sorority not unlike the one mentioned in the last comment right above mine. Feel better, Rachel!


  32. Sue Todd

    I’m curious … I’ve just browsed your blog for the first time, and saw St George’s mentioned in this post. … Was it the one in Harpenden? I saw that you’re from near London. Would be nice to think another foodie came out of the school 🙂
    Really liked the look of your ginger cake – going to try it out.

  33. Elisabeth

    It’s always a pleasure to read your wonderful blog. Wishing you happiness and plenty more deliciousness to come.

  34. I’m so happy to see another post! Good blogs are hard to find. Yours is. So, best wishes from a complete stranger in Maine (with 4 feet of snow, so thinking and reading about Rome is especially nice).

  35. I’m glad you’re back, you’ve been very missed. I’ll be here waiting for your posts, whenever they come. And if they’re as succulent as these potato croquettes, then much better!

  36. I have really missed your wonderful posts and so glad you are back! I love your pictures and your voice…your blog really is special. Thanks for sharing your food and your life with us readers!

  37. Edan

    Those look unbelievable. Spent a fortnight in southern Spain in the fall eating more croquettes than could possibly be healthy, but not potato. Cannot wait for this. Feeling for you during a difficult time. Your writing is, as always gorgeous, and it’s uplifting for me to see a post, and hopefully for you to write. xo

  38. Rache! I’ve missed your overhead shots of food. I felt like an angel watching you prep your meals…

  39. as someone said above, so good to read you. i missed your words, and of course your pictures and recipes. thank you for sharing with us, it’s good to know you’ll be just fine, rachel. 😉

    so smart of you to suggest beer AND fried zucchini blossoms. i mean you have all that hot oil there anyway, it would be a shame to stop at croquettes, right? and they too must be eaten right by the stove 30 seconds after they’re out of the oil. makes me want to put some permanent seating right beside the stove… hmmm…

  40. As I made your tomato-onion-butter sauce just the other night, I wished you’d come back and share more recipes. And now you have. Hurrah!

  41. Colette

    Wow, these look seriously yummy!

    Rachel, I so look forward to your posts. Not only because of your celebration of such beautiful food but also because of your celebration of life through such beautiful writing.

    Thank you for this wonderful little window into your life in Rome.

  42. I applaude wonkiness in all its forms—love these wondrous wonky croquettes and writing of Rach!
    love to you

  43. I’ve been on the wrong end (there aren’t any good ends, i guess) of a break-up and I’ve also made some pretty rotten croquettes in my time, so i hope this comment radiates sympathy. Happily, time is a great healer for both broken hearts and demoralizing croquette failures. We made giant, Barcelona-style croquettes a few months ago, most of which had to be binned, but the couple that survived were awesome. During tough times, it’s important to remember that you have a friend croquetas. ouch. so glad you’re back.

  44. Jim

    What an amazing crowd of friends you have, Rachel. Even though you may not have met most of us, you have fans all over the world.

    I love cooking and eating good food but rarely take the time and effort to enjoy a dish as thoroughly as you seem to. Your writing, pictures, and recipes “strike a chord” with me and apparently many others.

    Looking forward to another post soon….

  45. Dear Rachel,
    I have missed your posts, fried potato croquettes sound divine!
    Change is hard, it’s scary, I am going through some changes myself but later often we look back and realize that the changes and growing pains enriched us and were for the better. I am moving back to the US in June, while I love Sicily I feel as though I am drifting here. I need to have a real job, think of retirement benefits etc… pension I think you call it in the UK. My husband will join me later I am in the process of doing his US paperwork.

    I love Italy, the simplicity, the quality ingredients, the sea, the countryside, how ancient so many things are. It is challenging at times to live here, here where I live creature comforts are sort of a rarity. The flat can be cold there is a scaricity mentality that is really something. The previous generations here the folks that are in their 70’s and 80’s went through the war and they’ve passed some of it on… to their kids and grand kids. Anyhow this is my take on it. Everyone is always complaining, looking for ways to not spend and cutting corners. It drives me crazy, I get to look like the wasteful american…but I end up being the one who is always calling on my cellphone – because I don’t care- I end up paying, or using my car. I don’t mind doing it but the sense of reciprocity or fair play is not a concept they are familiar with and I am weary. Sorry for the mini rant.
    I love your writing and your recipes always make my mouth water. I am on one of my healthy raw foods spells. So no potato croquettes for me, but I did enjoy reading about it. Hugs xoxo D.

  46. Gosh, I am so very sorry that I somehow missed this post until now, or news that something was afoot prior to it. I am sorry that your life has been in a bit of upheaval, but so so glad that you are writing again. (Almost wrote “righting” and you know what, that word would work too.)

    I’ll be in Rome in May for a few days. I have to figure out when. If you are up for it, you should find me! I’ll buy you drinks, because that’s what I do when faced with (1) new/old friends and (2) people who have undergone some changes.

    • rachel

      Dear Christine,

      A drink sounds like a *very very* good idea. Let me know when you will be in Rome here or send me a message 0039 329 090 8324.

      A presto, with affection Rach

  47. This post made my day. Missed you.

  48. Katie

    Love seeing your posts, whenever they appear. You may not feel inspired these days, but your posts are always inspiring to me. I hope you feel better soon. Spring is just around the corner. Hang in there.

  49. ally

    dear rachel,
    i’m trying to word this comment without sounding totally over the top, but having never commented on any type of blog before i feel like i should at least think about what i’m saying. i moved to trastevere 6 months ago and have to just tell you an enormous thank you because without your recipes as inspiration i would have never been able to enjoy my time in italy as much as i have (or had any idea what to eat besides gelatto). i have eaten your borlotti bean with farro/ pasta e fagoi/potatos with fried sage/that tomato, onion, butter sauce(omg)/ pasta e ceci/ribliotta and so on like, a gazillion times through this winter. when i’ve had visitors i always give them “italian cooking lessons” and then later confess where all my awesome romanesque recipes are from. Parmesan rinds in soup my be the most epiphenous (word?) thing i have ever experienced. thank you thank you thank you. also, your ability/willingness to write about that which makes us all vulnerable and joyful and to evoke those emotions in your readers is truly that of an artist.

  50. enesbit5

    I ran across your site through a happy accident and really love your view of Italian life. I was born in Italy and still have family members living there but haven’t been back to visit in years. Your writing, and recipes,make me want to get on a plane this afternoon and join you for a meal, a drink and lots of talking. I’m sorry to read that you have separated from your partner it’s a hard thing to get through but get through it you will. Please keep writing your wonderful recipes and thoughts about my lovely homeland.

  51. darls, that’s just crap (about your love life…not the croquettes, which look ace).

    but yep, keep writing. and you’d better start, if you’ve not already done so, writing a book, baby.

    lots of love,

    lucy XX

  52. Lavi

    hey ho let’s go

  53. I just found your blog today and must say the photos and your writing are wonderful. I’m glad you found a comfy place to stay during this stressful period. I myself am in year #5 of trying to get a divorce so I can only wish you the best in this difficult time. Funny, I turned to cooking when I found the little house I rent. Somehow, making or creating something nourishing feeds more than just my stomach! Take care and I look forward to your future posts.

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  55. Here I am, after 3 weeks road-trippin’, and the promised kleenex post is still missing. I’ll be happy with a recipe, too. Baci!

  56. Elisabeth

    so glad you’re back! keep on writing, cooking & living! no one ever knows what the future might bring but there’s joy out there – waiting just for you! xo

  57. Rachael Macry

    I’m so glad you’re back! I have missed you. 🙂

    These look so delicious. I’ve had to cut my potato consumption down to basically zero… *sob*! I haven’t ever had potato croquettes before but I am reminded of pierogies (I don’t think that is spelled right but I cannot find the spelling for it right now), which is pasta pockets stuffed with mashed potatoes and other things. They are fantastic fried. I can’t eat white pasta anymore either. Or fried things. So it’s just a memory. *SOB*.

    Have a great day!

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