Every Tuesday, Italian local Emiko Daviesis taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: With this turn-of-the-century recipe, basic beans become a crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside croquette.
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Loved throughout the entire boot of Italy, croquettes—rolled, crumbed, fried morsels—are found in many forms and with many diverse ingredients. The meat versions, generally known also as polpette (meatballs), are often made with a “clear out the fridge” philosophy: Minced meat, sausage, and even salami or mortadella might find their way into the mixture, along with herbs and perhaps some nutmeg. A combination of egg and grated Parmesan cheese binds the batter together before each ball is dipped in egg, crumbed, and deep fried.
In Venice, the minced meat is often mixed with mashed potatoes for a somewhat creamy filling; in Rome, bollito, or boiled meat, makes a cheap and rustic filling; and in Tuscany, tripe balls are a favorite. Fish such as tuna (even canned tuna) and especially baccalà (salted cod) often take the place of red meat, and many meatless versions exist, too: There are croquettes made of ricotta, eggplant (found in Sicily), and, as in this recipe from Tuscany, cannellini beans.
They are inspired by a recipe found in a Tuscan cookbook from the turn of the century, Leaves from Our Tuscan Kitchen. This wonderful little book of vegetable recipes was originally published in 1899, though it's still in print. It was written by English historian and Florentine expatriate Janet Ross, and includes recipes from her cook, Giuseppe Volpi.
The book’s recipe for bean croquettes calls for 1 quart of dried beans (which would equal nearly 6 pounds, or 3 kilos, of cooked beans), which are cooked, mashed, and mixed with plenty of butter, a dash of vinegar, and some lemon balm before being crumbed and fried in butter.
I loved the hint of vinegar and minty lemon balm perfuming the earthy, creamy cannellini beans, though I did adjust the recipe so it uses a smaller quantity of beans and grated Parmesan instead of butter. You could also use other herbs if lemon balm is difficult to find. I found that pan-frying these delicate croquettes in a little butter and oil held together better than deep frying in oil. The result is a crunchy on the outside, smooth and creamy on the inside croquette, which would be perfect as part of an antipasto platter.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.