Sometimes on a Sunday, before I do my grocery shopping for the upcoming week, I pull all the veggies I didn’t get around to using during the previous week and make something — sometimes a pot of minestrone or other vegetable-based soup, other times a big sheet pan of roasted random veggies.
But given the holiday weekend and my already compromised ability to know what day it is (thanks, COVID), today seemed like a good day to round up the usual plant-based suspects and make something.
I found zucchini, crooked neck squash, red/yellow bell peppers (the combo kind – pretty!), mushrooms, green onions, baby spinach, and one red potato.
Next, I checked the pantry. Whew! No wayward vegetables absentmindedly stashed there, but I did find one of my favorite Amador County-made products: Martha’s Organic All-Natural Cornbread Mix (available here and on Amazon). A plan began to form in my mind…Fritters!
Under normal circumstances, zucchini fritters are my go-to summertime treat, when gardens (not mine) are overrun with squash. When I was a kid, my Grandpa Boitano taught me how to make them in the cool of the basement, which had an earthen floor but also a stove, refrigerator, kitchen table, and pantry shelves, lined with the current season’s mother lode of freshly canned veggies, fruits, and antipasto. My grandpa sliced, battered and fried his fritters, but I eventually switched to a quicker method of shredding the zucc and mixing it into Bisquick and then frying them in olive oil for a savory afternoon treat.
But today, I decided to do something different. I grabbed my large wooden chopping bowl, cut the veggies up into chunks and slices, shredded the raw potato (skin on) and threw in four cloves of coarse-chopped garlic. Then I went chop crazy. The smell of the raw garlic and especially the bell peppers wafted up into my face like a morning garden facial.
I also tossed in a couple of handfuls of fresh-grated parm, cracked black pepper and coarse salt (plenty).
Time for the batter. In typical fashion, I sorta followed the instructions on the package, which called for adding two eggs, milk, four tablespoons of melted butter, and salt to the mix. I used three eggs, and I substituted buttermilk, to offset any slight sweetness that cornbread mixes sometimes have, although as a sidenote, Martha’s All-Natural products are organic and have very little added anything. This mix had just a tiny bit of cane juice added for sweetening, but I still tossed in a 1/2 tsp more salt than the mix instructions called for. I like salt.
I looked at the batter. I looked at my bowl of chopped veggies. Instantly, I knew the proportions would be perfect. Why? I don’t know. I have some sort of spidey sense and kitchen confidence not found anywhere else in my life. So I combined the two bowls. It was perfect.
And then, I fried. In light olive oil (I use light olive oil, which is just what you get in subsequent pressings after the first cold press, or extra virgin). I do not have canola or vegetable oil in the house. I use light olive oil anytime a recipe calls for those two things or when I would normally grab vegetable oil — even to bake with. For vegetarian dishes like this one, EVOO earthiness would have overpowered the fresh veggie flavors. Hence, the light.
My only concern was whether the veggies and cornmeal in the mix would soften up completely on the stovetop (as opposed to 30 minutes in a hot oven). Turns out my kitchen gut-hunch was right to chop the veggies finely – they were perfect; the cornmeal bread binder was silky and smooth and totally done. Took about three minutes each side on med-high heat in a heavy non-stick pan to get them perfectly golden brown.
This particular Martha’s product isn’t gluten free, but she has a lot of mixes that are. Substitute cornstarch & water slurry for egg if you want a totally vegetarian dish, along with any plant-based butter or oil.
Veggie cornmeal fritters. Get ready neighbors, I made a big batch!