Nottingham

zucchini

There were thirteen of us living in the flat, the largest group in years. Thirteen who had decided we wanted to study in England, and Nottingham was where we would go. Thirteen who shared five bedrooms, two bathrooms, one huge living area, a kitchen the size of some suburban pantries, and a library located in the adjacent church. In that year we were so many things to each other- sparing mates, travel companions, intense annoyances, each other’s life lines. We took some classes at the Uni, and the rest were taught by the director from our home college. We traveled together on class outings some weekends, and rotated making dinner every weeknight.

At my program interview I was asked if I could cook. My answer was that I could- a little. I enjoyed cooking, but I didn’t feel confident in the kitchen yet. I could assemble a lasagna and make mac and cheese but I was far less certain about cooking for sixteen people (us, our director, her son, and her assistant). I wasn’t the only person who felt this way. It was a huge thing to prepare for. My first few meals were rough- baked crepes, not enough for seconds, with only a salad as a side, for example. We all burned through the recipes that we brought home pretty quickly. And then things started to get interesting.

I spent hours trying and failing to perfect gnocchi, but found a leek confit that was perfect with the failed dumplings. Megan, who is a pie whisperer, showed me how to roll out pie dough. Aparna made a fish biriyani so spicy I could barely eat it, but so tasty that I kept trying to power through. Aaron joined a flair bartending club, which led to a job barbacking at a swanky cocktail lounge. There was the milk delivered straight to our door three times a week in liter bottles, cold and sweet and fresher than the expensive local organic milk I buy now, that we added to tea. There were the four cartons of orange juice we went through every week, fresh and juicy without a hint of sugar added. There was the greengrocer we frequented where we bought flats of eggs, dozens of apples, and freshly harvested British veg. When we were homesick we ate food that reminded us of home- mac and cheese, orange chicken, tacos, carnitas, enchiladas. And we were homesick a lot. But life was also so full.

Nottingham was pub quizzes where we drank real ale and house made cider at a pub where the worn armchairs were arranged around the fireplace. It was the Halloween we threw a murder mystery party set in the twenties where we all died. After we finished we got drinks in costume and belatedly remembered most Brits don’t celebrate Halloween. It was having eighty people over for Thanksgiving and still attending class that morning. It was baking at midnight and dressing up as Rita Skeeter for a Harry Potter premier and the buses closing down once snow appeared on the ground. It was learning to ask how much a cab would cost before getting in because of our accents inflated the price, and drunkenly exchanging phone numbers with English girls in the bathrooms of bars. It was five years ago. It feels like ten. It feels like yesterday.

I discovered food blogs right around this time, and cooked from them religiously. One of my first discoveries, and my favorites, was The Wednesday Chef. I made so many things from her site that year that I still love- eggplant sauce, rhubarb cake, chard and onion panade, braised leeks. But the one thing I found on her site that year I still make religiously are the zucchini pancakes. They are quick, easy, healthy, impressive, and delicious. When zucchini is in season I make it once a week. It’s a recipe that I’ve memorized the proportions for, and as long as you’ve got that down you can freestyle. Feta and mint, mozzarella and parsley, shallots or garlic or scallions, zucchini, no zucchini. It’s all good.

I made these variation recently for lunch with Aaron. The flavors are for fall, with earthy sage, rich cannelloni beans, and sharp white cheddar. The kale ribbons its way around the squash, and the nutmeg brings a woodsy warmth. It’s delicious on its own, but incandescent with nostalgia.

Summer Squash Fritters for Fall

inspired by Luisa Weiss of The Wednesday Chef

Makes about 12 fritters

These are endlessly adaptable. You can substitute in different cheeses, herbs, flours, and vegetables as you desire. As you make substitutions, just remember that the batter should resemble a thick pancake dough, and adjust the amount of liquid accordingly.

2 cups grated summer squash
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can (1 1/2 cups) cannelloni beans, or other white beans
1/2 cup thinly chopped kale
1/2 cup grated sharp white cheddar
1 teaspoon minced sage
between 1/4 teaspoon (if you’re feeling demure) and 3/4 teaspoon (if you’re feeling bold) ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
2 large eggs
1/2 cup spelt flour
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for pan
1 teaspoon salt

In a medium sized bowl combine the summer squash and the half teaspoon of salt and mix well. Let it sit to the side for five minutes, then place the summer squash in a clean towel. Over the sink squeeze the majority of the liquid out of the summer squash. It will not be everything, and that’s fine. Place the drained squash in a clean bowl.

While the squash is sitting, roughly mash some of the beans in either a mortar and pestle or a bowl with a fork. You want some beans smooth, some beans whole, and some in between, and the exact ratio depends on how much texture you want in your fritters.

To the drained squash, add the mashed beans, kale, cheddar, sage, and spices. Mix well. Crack the eggs in the squash mixture and mix so everything is incorporated. Add the olive oil and flour, and mix to make sure everything is evenly incorporated.

If you are concerned about keeping the first fritters warm while the remaining ones cook, preheat your oven to 200.

Place a large skillet over medium heat and add a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Let the skillet warm for a minute, then add the squash batter, one large spoonful per fritter. I fit about three fritters in the pan at a time, but that will depend on the size of your skillet. Use a spatula to gently pat down the batter to make sure you’re getting plenty of surface area contacting the hot oil.

Cook the fritters until their underside is golden brown, about 2 minutes, then flip. Cook until both sides are golden, about two more minutes. Repeat with remaining batter, until all fritters are cooked. If you are worried about keeping them warm, now is the time to add the fritters to the preheated oven. If you are not worried about that, place them on a plate as you cook the remaining fritters.

These fritters refrigerate well and can easily be reheated in a microwave or toaster oven. Aaron always eats his smeared with greek yogurt.

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