Please understand: this is not one of those stories about how preciously advanced my toddler’s tastes are, how early he took an interest in foie gras and how he turns his nose up at white flour pastas, preferring farro. Oh no. It is, in fact, the opposite. Let’s say you called me on the phone day — you know, presuming we lived on a planet where people still spoke on the phone — and said “My toddler! He eats nothing but macaroni and cheese and graham crackers! How do I get him to eat vegetables?” I would respond, without blinking twice: “Fritters.” Except my enthusiasm for fritters is so great that it would come out “FRITTERS!” in the background, I’d be doing jazz hands, and in my head, there would be Rockettes singing and high-kicking to this tune that I promise to never sing for you in person that goes, “Fritterrrrrrrrs! Fritters are the answer!” Let’s definitely never speak about this part again.
I have a theory that you can tuck almost any finely chopped or shredded vegetable — be it potatoes, zucchini, or an Indian-spiced mix — into a savory pancake, fry it in small mounds until crisp on both sides, serve it with a dollop of a sour cream or yogurt sauce and they will be inhaled. They’re one of these magical foods. They come together quickly. You can make them with whatever you have on hand, even leftover vegetables. They freeze well. They reheat well. You can put an egg on top of them and call them a balanced meal. They are one of the universe’s most perfect foods and I have found that toddler-types love them.
So, you know where this is going. One day, at a loss for what to make my very own toddler for lunch, I had the audacity to take some of his leftover steamed broccoli florets, mash them into a Parmesan batter, fry them until crisp and heavenly and I was about as puffed and proud of my cooking efforts as a mama could be, and you know, he wouldn’t touch them. Not a bit. Not even a sniff. And it was all because I’d forgotten the two rules of feeding toddlers. 1. The greater your enthusiasm is about a dish the less likely it is that a toddler will eat it. It is known. 2. If your child likes something aggressively healthy — like, say, broccoli — raw or barely cooked and totally unseasoned and horrifically bland to you, you don’t have to mess with it. You can just leave it alone.
And with that, I had them for lunch instead. And they were fantastic.
One year ago: Dobos Torte
Two years ago: Strawberry Ricotta Graham Tartlets
Three years ago: Springy, Fluffy Marshmallows and Spanikopita Triangles
Four years ago: Breakfast Apricot Crisp and Dead Simple Slaw
Five years ago: Gateau de Crepes
Broccoli Parmesan Fritters
There’s a lot of broccoli and very little pancake in this fritter. The broccoli is not grated or pureed, but left in small, recognizable bits that are bound lightly, faintly, to their batter of egg, parmesan and flour. And when you cook them right — that is, to a crisp, in a preheated, heavy, oil-slicked skillet — they get a fantastic crisp edge to them, like they were coated in frico. I imagine that if you were to roll the pancake in additional parmesan, it would get extra frico, though I haven’t tried it yet. Also, I’d like someone to start a band called Extra Frico.
To serve: I like these with a dollop of the garlicky lemon yogurt I share here, roughly 1 cup plain yogurt, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tiny minced clove of garlic, a bit of zest and salt. It would also be good with this homemade ricotta, with or without additional lemon juice. They’re also good simply, with just a squeeze of lemon juice. I think I’d also enjoy them with a little crumbled feta on top. Oh, and of course, you can put a runny fried egg on top of it. But I don’t need to tell you that.
Yield: 9 (because my recipes never want to grace us with neat, well-rounded numbers) 2 to 2 1/2-inch fritters
8 ounces (1 small-to-medium bundle, 225 grams) fresh broccoli (3 cups chopped)
1 large egg
1/2 cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (30 grams) finely grated parmesan cheese
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more to taste
A pinch of red pepper flakes or several grinds of black pepper
Olive or vegetable oil for frying
Prepare your broccoli: Separate the florets from the biggest stem(s). Cut the florets into 1-inch chunks. To prepare the stems, I like to peel them, as the skin can be thick and doesn’t cook quickly, then slice them into 1/2-inch lengths. You should have about 3 cups of chopped broccoli total.
Steam your broccoli until tender but not mushy: Use whatever method you prefer. My quickie, lazy method is to bring a 1/2-inch or so of water to a boil in a small saucepan, then add the broccoli, place a lid on it and simmer it for 5 to 6 minutes. Drain the broccoli, then set it aside to cool slightly.
In the bottom of a large bowl, lightly beat your egg. Add the flour, cheese, garlic, salt and pepper. Then, add the somewhat cooled broccoli and, using a potato masher, mash the broccoli just a bit. You’re looking to keep the bits recognizable, but small enough (1/4- to 1/2-inch chunks) that you can press a mound of the batter into a fritter in the pan. Once mashed a bit, stir or fold the ingredients together the rest of the way with a spoon. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Heat a large, heavy skillet over moderate heat. Once hot, add a good slick of oil (I usually use a mix of olive and vegetable oil), about 2 to 3 tablespoons. Once the oil is hot (you can test it by flicking a droplet of water into it; it should hiss and sputter), scoop a two tablespoon-size mound of the batter and drop it into the pan, then flatten it slightly with your spoon or spatula. Repeat with additional batter, leaving a couple inches between each. Once brown underneath, about 2 to 3 minutes, flip each fritter and cook on the other side until equally golden, about another 1 to 2 minutes.
Transfer briefly to paper towels to drain, then to a serving plate if you’ll be eating them shortly or a baking sheet in a 200 degree oven if you’d like to keep them warm for a while until needed. Repeat with remaining batter, adding more oil as needed. Serve with some of the suggestions listed in the head notes, above.