Rhode Island + end of summer

Eccomi! It's been a fairly quiet month on Pancakes & Biscotti, and I wouldn't have had it any other way. I had planned to cook, bake, and write during my two week summer vacation spent in Rhode Island -- my parents house has a kitchen that is much nicer than mine, after all -- but in the end the need to staccare la spina (relax, unwind, etc) won out. In short, any time I figured I'd spend blogging ended up being (more wisely spent) in Washington, D.C with my brother and sister-in-law, or with my parents in the ocean-side towns of Narragansett and Newport, or at my grandparents', or reuniting with a few friends I hadn't seen in far too long. Bottom line: I don't have any super new recipes for you to close out the month, but for the very best reasons. While blogging remains one of my very favorite activities -- and my blog one of the things I'm most proud of -- I have learned lately that it never hurts to take a step back and recharge my batteries. I find that any break from blogging actually means that after a bit of time off, I'm filled to the brim with new ideas and eager to get back to writing, photographing, and cooking, which can only ever be a good thing (coming your way: super seasonal schiacciata all'uva; an eggplant, tomato, and peach salad I picked up from one of my sister-in-law's cookbooks; a pear/chocolate dessert to still be decided on, after sampling a pear/chocolate croissant at bakery in Rockville, Maryland). 

So! I'll be back in September with some new recipes -- in the meantime, as I recover from the jetlag, get settled back in to life in Rome, and enjoy the last days of my favorite season, here are a few photos of my trip home to the smallest state, including: treats from the ever-so-delicious PVdonuts, a hub of genius that churns out over-the-top, creative donuts (in this case Strawberry PopTart, Ring Ding, Caramel Latte, and Coffee Milk); an enlightening look in to the "Only in Rhode Island" shop where you'll find classic Rhode Island specialties like Del's frozen lemonade mix, coffee syrup to make our signature state beverage, coffee milk, plus salt water taffy, and former mafioso-mayor Buddy Cianci's own brand tomato sauce; a few family photos; some classic New England dishes that you'd never, ever, in a million years find in Rome; lunch at my grandparents', composed of a series of dishesexpertly prepared by my 92 year old grandmother. Last but not least, there's the requisite photo of our our sweet, wobbly-legged senior beagle, Snoopy to close out the post. Have a good rest of August, everyone -- be back soon!




Corn fritters

One of the (many) things I learned when I first moved to Italy was that in the month of August, everything slows down, shuts down, and eventually works its way to a complete halt. This initially came to a surprise to me; after all, I was coming from the U.S, a country where vacation days are far and few between and no business of any sort would ever dream of closing down for half the month. Nonetheless, August is the designated vacation month in my adopted country (chalk it up to cultural differences) a time of the year in which stores, restaurants and workplaces close, sometimes for weeks at at a time. Similarly, Italians -- Romans included -- use the month of August to go on vacation, usually opting for places near the sea or in the mountains where temperatures are considerably coolerIn fact, the 15th of August (today, coincidentally!) is actually a national holiday called Ferragostowhere everything from the supermarket to the bank is closed and most everyone has the day off.

While August does mean that some of my usual haunts are closed until September -- the closing of our neighborhood bar has set all the regulars adrift, wandering around the block in search of another, still-open bar to congregate -- I happen to love August in Rome. I have always found myself in the city for most of the month (perhaps because I'm not Italian, and therefore don't have the inherent need to vacation at this point in the summer?) and don't mind in the least. The capital -- which usually errs more on the chaotic side -- seems to exhale, relax, and take on an uncharacteristic calm, one where you can walk down your street and very likely not see or hear another soul, and where you can actually get a seat on the metro (!!!) at peak hours. Things are calm, quiet, and peaceful, and for just the right amount of time -- 4 weeks are just long enough to unwind before you start to miss the liveliness of the city that returns at the month's end. 

In the midst of this brief summer-y calm I always make time to cook; after all, summer, my favorite season to cook in, is almost at its end and therefore I try to take advantage of the last it has to offer (plums! figs! nectarines! bell peppers!) I used this year's August lull to cook with corn -- seasonal, candy-sweet, and sunshine yellow corn! -- lovely in everything from pastas to risottos to salads to savory pies, and especially in these corn fritters.

First things first: the cheese, herbs, and scallions in these beauties are the supporting actors; they're included for flavor, yes, but the star here is (as it should be) the corn. Each fritter is packed with perfectly sweet kernels, mixed with just enough flour and egg to hold them together and not interfere with the corn, which is allowed to take center stage here. They're crisp and crunchy and golden brown and addictive, and bonus points: they're incredibly simple to make and are pretty flexible, too. Use whatever cheese or herbs you'd like, serve them with a fresh basil/tomato salad, as a side to whatever you've put on the grill dinner, or at brunch with an egg on top. If you, like me, were lucky enough to take a preserving class with Carla Tomasi, then you'll also be eating these with homemade tomato relish. Yummm.

A couple of notes: I didn't have cheddar on hand (one cheese you can't find in Rome) so I used a sharp provolone which worked well. I have also made these with basil instead of chives which gave these an even more summer-y flavor. Deb says that fritters keep well in the fridge for up to 3 days, and freeze well too. They can be defrosted and re-toasted in a 350 degree (170 degree Celsius) oven. These are delicious with a tomato salad on the side, or eaten as a side dish themselves with something off the grill, or as an appetizer if made even smaller with an aioli for dipping, if you're Deb, with an egg on top at brunch.

Looking for more corn recipes? I've got these Corn Muffins with maple butter, these Cornmeal Blueberry Pancakes, this Corn, Tomato, and Avocado Salad and this Corn, Tomato, and Zucchini Pie

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen

6 ears of corn (about 3 cups corn)
4 scallions, both white and greens finely chopped
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) chopped herbs of your choice, like chives or basil
About 1 cup (6 ounces) grated sharp cheddar, or cheese of your choice
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
4 eggs
1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour, plus 2 more tablespoons if needed
Olive or a neutral oil for frying (safflower for example)

Shuck corn and stand the first stalk in a large bowl. Use a sharp knife to cut the kernels from the corn into the bowl. Repeat with remaining ears. Add scallions, herbs, cheese, and a few grinds of black pepper to the corn and stir to evenly combine. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as you see fit.
Add the eggs and use a fork or spoon to stir until they’re all broken up and evenly coat the corn mixture. Add 1 cup of flour and stir to thoroughly coat. Note from Deb: A scoop of fritter should at this point hold its shape unless pressed down; if yours does not, add the remaining flour. (For reference, I needed it.)
Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Once hot and shimmering, add a scoop of corn fritter batter (about 2 tablespoons worth) and press it gently to flatten it. When the underside of the fritter is a deep golden brown, flip and cook to the same color on the second side (corn fritters cook quickly so keep an eye on them!) 
Drain the fritters on a paper towel, sprinkling on more salt. When it’s cool enough to try, taste and adjust the seasonings of the remaining batter if needed. 
Cook remaining fritters in the same manner, adding more oil as needed. Try to get them to the table before finishing them. Makes about 20-24 small fritters, but the recipe can be easily halved if you're feeding a smaller crowd.