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’s 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 also 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. —Emiko
olive oil, divided
fresh herbs (such as lemon balm, mint, thyme, or oregano), torn or roughly chopped
In a wide skillet over low-medium, heat half the olive oil, the garlic clove, and the herbs, and cook for 5 minutes, letting the oil infuse. When the garlic is golden, add the beans and sauté, stirring to combine the beans well with the herbs. Add the vinegar, salt, and plenty of pepper, and continue cooking gently for 5 to 10 minutes, until some of the liquid has cooked down.
Remove from the heat and mash the beans with a potato masher (or push the mixture through a coarse sieve). Add the parmesan cheese. Let cool completely in the fridge to firm up the mixture.
When cool, roll tablespoons of the mixture into walnut-sized balls, then roll gently into cylinders. Place the beaten egg into a shallow bowl and the breadcrumbs into a separate shallow bowl. Roll each cylinder first in egg and then in the breadcrumbs, rolling to cover completely with an even layer of breadcrumbs. Place on a lined baking sheet or board until all of the croquettes are ready.
In a wide skillet, heat the rest of the olive oil along with the butter over medium heat. When hot, gently pan-fry the croquettes in batches until golden brown. If there are excess breadcrumbs, they may fall into the fat and burn, causing the subsequent batches of croquettes to darken. If this is the case, clean out the pan of burnt crumbs with paper towel and renew the oil and butter before starting a new batch.
These are best served hot or warm. If you want to make them in advance, the croquettes can also be warmed in the oven.
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.