Crocchette di palate, or potato croquettes, are wonderfully versatile. They are probably most often served as an antipasto, but they can also do fine service as a lovely contorno, especially with fried meat or fish dish, or as part of a fritto misto, or as a first course instead of pasta, which is how we enjoyed them today, before we tucked into a nice pile of sausages and peppers. If you add a substantial filling, they can even be a light secondo. And they are great snack food, too. And they’re real easy to make, so long as you abide by certain simple tips.
Potato croquettes are served all over Italy—they are a staple antipasto in Roman pizzerias, for example—but, to my mind, they will always be associated with the cookery of Naples, where they are called crocchè or panzarotti.
Serves 4-6 persons For the crochette dough:
- 1 kg (2 lbs.) russet or other mealy potato (see Notes)
- 2 eggs (or 3 yolks)
- 100g (4 oz.) grated Parmesan cheese, or a mixture of Parmesan and pecorino romano, or just pecorino
- A scrape of nutmeg
- Salt and pepper
- A pinch of finely chopped parsley (optional)
For the breading:
- 2-3 eggs, beaten with a spoonful of milk or water
Oil for deep frying (see Notes) For the filling (optional):
- Mozzarella, cut into small strips, and seasoned with salt
- A combination of mozzarella and cooked ham, cut into small dice
- Mozzarella, cut into small strips, and anchovy fillets
- Another meltable cheese (like fontina) and salami, cut into small dice
Steam the potatoes in their skins (aka jackets) for about 30-40 minutes, or until they are fully cooked. (To test for doneness, stick a paring knife into them. If you can lift the blade out of the potatoes without lifting the potato, they’re done.) Let the potatoes cool completely.
Peel the potatoes and cut them halves or quarters and pass them through a food mill or potato ricer.
Then mix in the rest of the ingredients listed above with a wooden spoon or spatula, making sure to salt them generously, until you have a stiff dough that forms a ball:
If the mixture feels a bit too soft or wet, add more grated cheese or a spoonful of flour, enough to stiffing things up.
Now set up yourself up with plates full of egg and breadcrumbs, plus your filling if using (today, I used mozzarella). Take a piece of the dough, about the size of ping pong ball, in your hands, and flattened it into an oval shape in the palm of your hand. If you are using a filling, press the filling into the center and close the dough around the filling and then roll it around with your hands to form a lozenge-shaped croquette. If not using the filling, just form the dough into croquettes.
Pass each croquette in the beaten egg, then in the breadcrumbs. When you are done, put them into the fridge for an hour or so, or until you are ready to cook.
Deep fry the croquettes in abundant oil, heated to 180C/350F, until they are nice and golden brown to your liking. This should take about 5 minutes.
There are a few tricks for making these croquettes come out as they should. First, as for mashed potatoes, potato gnocchi or French fries, you want mealy potatoes like russets for making these croquettes, not the ‘waxy’ kind, which you should use for salads and roasting. And, like gnocchi, you want to make sure that the potatoes are as dry as possible, which is why you cook them in their skins and, preferably, steam rather than boil them.
You can let them cool completely, uncovered, in a colander, which will help dry them out. Some recipes even tell you to leave them to dry over night, just to be sure they’re really dry. (On the other hand, Jeanne Caròla Francesconi, in her magisterial work La cucina napoletana, tells you to peel and mash the potatoes as quickly as possible so that they don’t get too cool—go figure.)
Francesconi also calls for 3 yolks rather than 2 whole eggs, but she suggests adding a white or two if you want a firmer crocchè. (The egg white will make the dough softer, but will add firmness as it solidifies while cooking in the hot oil.) She also insists of using lots of minced parsley. Finally, if you want a crispier crust, you can pass the croquettes in flour before the egg and breadcrumbs.
The size of the crocchette can vary according to your preference. The ones I made today are rather large by Italian standards, but practical when employing a filing; many recipes calls for only a heaping spoonful of potato dough. The nice thing about smaller crocchette is that you get more crust, a bit like a baguette.
The filling is optional; I would leave it out if using these croquettes as a contorno (side course) as you don’t want to compete with the main dish. The fillings listed above are the most commonly found, but, as is probably obvious, you can really let your culinary creativity go wild here. Francesconi includes an incredibly elaborate recipe from Ippolito Cavalcanti‘s Cucina Teorica-pratica (1837). Cavalcanti’s filling includes onion, pancetta, mushrooms, peas, ham, chopped leftover roast meat, mozzarella and (optionally) truffles (!)
You should observe all the usual tips and tricks for good frying: they oil should be hot enough and the croquettes not too crowded in the oil. I find a temperature of 180C/350F is just right; any hotter and the crust will brown too fast, less hot and you risk soggy, greasy croquettes. If you are using an electric deep fryer, keeping the right temperature is pretty easy. You can also fit more croquettes into the oil. If you are frying ‘free style’ in a skillet, test the oil beforehand with a tiny bit of the potato mixture—the oil should bubble up around the potato briskly—and only fry a few at a time to maintain an even temperature.
It probably goes without saying, but these crocchette are a great way to use leftover mashed potatoes. Just add the egg and flavorings to the potatoes to form the dough, and take it from there.
And a final note: Some of you will probably have noticed the resemblance that these potato croquettes bear to fried rice balls, known as arancini in Sicily and supplì in Rome—but those are recipes for another day…