Pumpkin Patties are reminders of trip to Hungary
I couldn't have chosen a better time to visit Hungary.
It was early in October and the walnuts and almonds were being harvested from the branches they clung to. I had to be careful as I walked through the parks, trying to stay out of the way of falling chestnuts. Just-picked apples and pears were looking glorious in their crates at the organic farmers' market on the Buda side of the Danube River. The last of the grapes were being smashed to begin the process of making wine. Gardeners were already grinding their paprika. And rosehips were being collected, turning into tangy sweet sauce with the consistency of liquid honey. Large, deep orange pumpkins were appearing in yards of the homes in tiny villages dotting the countryside.
All of these seasonal gems were showing up on menus in the restaurants in Budapest and in the little country villages I passed through.
A chalkboard sign outside of Anno Taverna Restaurant in Balatonszarszón, a little village on the south side of Lake Balaton, announced they were celebrating pumpkins that week. My two traveling partners and I pulled the car into the small parking lot and chose an outdoor table to enjoy the October sunshine while we had lunch.
My meal began with a bowl of pork knuckle and bean soup, hot and hearty. Then, a cucumber salad made with the freshest-tasting cucumbers I've ever eaten. Finally, a plate of deep orange pumpkin latkes studded with chewy green pumpkin seeds and flavored with a hint of nutmeg. Three hefty-sized crunchy rounds were topped with a big dollop of sour cream, a sprig of fresh rosemary and a few drops of greenish brown pumpkin seed oil glistening under the autumn sun. Around the outside edge of the plate were sprinkles of a mixture of dried bits of minced green and red peppers, cracked black and white peppercorns and coarse salt. That plate of food was a beautiful work of art, really. And the latkes, delicious.
Pumpkin Patties are the result of my effort to recreate those potato-latke-like disks made of Hungarian pumpkin. I pulled out my favorite potato latke recipe to use as the base. Then I grabbed a small pie pumpkin, sometimes called a sugar pumpkin, from my front steps and brought it in to clean, peel and grate. As I mentioned in my last column, these edible, orange winter squash are not all created equal. The big, bright, deep-ribbed pumpkins that make the best Jack-o-lanterns aren't the best choice for eating. For cooking and baking, choose the smaller pie pumpkins. Their flesh is deep orange and sweet, with a smooth texture. The larger pumpkins have stringy, watery flesh with little taste.
I discovered it was very easy to grate the raw peeled and seeded pumpkin in my food processor. The addition of Hungarian sweet paprika and nutmeg brought the flavors closer to those I remembered enjoying at Anno Taverna.
Feel free to get creative with this recipe. Grated onion may be a nice addition. Try seasoning with ground cumin rather than nutmeg. The grated pumpkin patties could also become a sweet breakfast treat by replacing the garlic, paprika and black pepper with baking spices such as cinnamon, allspice, ginger and cloves, then topped with warm applesauce.
Celebrate pumpkins at your house with these Pumpkin Patties that are delicious alongside roast pork or simmered smoked sausage. Or just eat them like I did at that little Hungarian restaurant under the October sun -- all by themselves, one crunchy bite after another, until they're all gone.
1 large egg
1/4 cup sour cream
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups coarsely grated, peeled pumpkin
Canola oil for frying
Sour cream, chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg. Add sour cream and blend. Add minced garlic. Stir in flour, baking powder, salt, black pepper, paprika and nutmeg. Mix well. Stir in grated Parmesan cheese. Stir the grated pumpkin into the batter.
Heat a large non-stick or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough canola oil to generously cover the bottom of the pan. When oil is hot, drop the batter by 1/4-cupfuls and flatten with a spatula to about 3-1/2 inches. Do not crowd the patties in the pan. Cook the pumpkin patties until they are deep golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. As the patties are done, transfer them to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and keep warm in a 200-degree oven until all are ready to serve.
At serving time, top each of the hot pumpkin patties with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of chopped parsley. Makes 6 patties.
Tips from the cook
--A food processor makes quick work of grating the pumpkin, but a hand grater will easily do the job.
--Try stirring some green pumpkin seeds (pepitas) into the batter before cooking. Not only will they add additional vitamins and minerals to the patties, you will enjoy their chewy texture and slightly sweet, nutty flavor. They are available in bulk or prepackaged in some supermarkets and natural food stores any time of year.