While some little girls spend their time dreaming of ponies, castles and wedding gowns, I spent mine thinking about fancy restaurants, linen tablecloths and sumptuous meals (though admittedly, I did have a thing for Cinderella’s baby blue ball gown). I suppose I have my foodie dad to thank for my patrician tastes, at least as far as vittles are concerned (no comment re: ball gowns).
With struggling, middle-class parents who appreciated good food, my dreams were realized more often that ponies or castles (or sadly, a Cinderella-esque gown) would have been. But the fanciest meal I recall enjoying as a youngster was at Greens, San Francisco’s revered vegetarian restaurant. While some folks imagine veg fare as bland glops and goos – plain barley and under-seasoned spinach, for instance – Greens effortlessly dispels these myths with their dishes which borrow from many different cultures to create a colorful palette of richly satisfying cuisine. And it’s no wonder: my idol, Deborah Madison, founded the kitchen as a young monk at the SF Zen Center in 1979.
But I didn’t know that when, at age 10, I sat with my family around the table in their large dining room overlooking the San Francisco bay. Linen tablecloth: check. Sumptuous meal: check. We ate many courses, most of which contained much cream and cheese (which I loved), and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when our server brought out tiny cups of tangy granita as a palate cleanser before dessert. Two desserts!
Of course, the irony of working in the food industry now is that the low pay prohibits one from actually eating out anywhere fancier than a Mission taqueria (no offense, El Metate) so I have only my memories of that decadent meal to tide me over…
…and the Everyday Greens cookbook, from whence these potato cakes came.
I know spring is just around the corner when the first tender shoots of green garlic start arriving in our box. Resembling a tiny, garlic-scented leek, green garlic’s fresh flavor shines when paired with mild foods like cream, eggs, soft cheeses and potatoes.
Another sign of the coming spring is the abundance of farm-fresh eggs, not only in our box, but at our local co-op, as well. Presumably because the hens get to snack on tasty little flowers popping up during the longer, warmer days, the yolks look brighter than ever; hence the golden hue of these morsels.
These savory griddle cakes contain all of the above: sweet, yellow potatoes simmered until tender and mashed with sauteed green garlic, goat and parmesan cheeses, a bit of crème fraîche, farm eggs, and some minced chives. They cook up into little pillows of potato love; just the thing to whip up on a cool, late-winter weekend for breakfast or dinner. I changed the method a bit: since my potatoes were quite small, rather than par-boiling them whole, then peeling them, then grating them, as per the original recipe, I simply cut the raw taters, skin and all, into large chunks, boiled them until tender, then mashed them with the other ingredients. A minimum of fussing, and I didn’t even notice the skins in the finished cakes.
One benefit of making Green’s delicacies at home, aside from the sensual satisfaction of the chopping, sauteing and mashing that goes into creating this dish, is avoiding a trip to the dreaded Marina. Having leftovers for days, as in the case of these crispy, creamy potato cakes doesn’t hurt, either. And if you’re an omnivore, no pesky, vegetarian monks will prevent you from enjoying these with meat, such as the delicious curried rice and beef à la Jessa that we all enjoyed at band practice last weekend. (Unless you have a pesky vegetarian monk for a housemate, in which case, you’re on your own.)
But perhaps the best part of eating at home is that no one will know if, afterward, you polish off two desserts, and neither of them are granita.
Green Garlic Potato Cakes with Chive Crème Fraîche
Adapted from Everyday Greens
Makes about 6 main course servings
These cakes would work well with other alliums in place of the green garlic; scallions, leeks, shallots or spring onions would all make excellent substitutes, depending on what’s in season. Similarly, feel free to feature any soft, green herb that you like (not that green herb) for the chives, such as basil, marjoram, parsley, chervil or tarragon, or swap out the chèvre for any favorite cheese, such as gruyère or aged cheddar. Use smallish, yellow-fleshed potatoes for the best taste and texture, such as Yukon Golds, Yellow Finns, or German Butterballs. The potato goop and crème fraîche keep well in the fridge for up to 3 days; you are then mere minutes away from frying up a tasty breakfast, lunch or dinner.
1 3/4 pounds yellow potatoes (see headnote), scrubbed, skin on, cut into 1″ chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups sliced green garlic, including the green bits (from 4 – 5 stalks)
juice of 1/2 a lemon, zest reserved for the crème fraîche
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons crème fraîche, plus a scant cup for serving (store-bought or homemade – see recipe below)
1 bunch of chives, finely chopped, 1/4 cup reserved for the crème fraîche topping
2/3 cup lightly packed crumbled fresh goat cheese
1/3 cup lightly packed grated parmesan
light cooking oil, for the pan (such as sunflower or grapeseed)
Place the tater chunks in a large pot, cover with cool water and add 2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are tender, but not falling apart, about 10 – 15 minutes of simmering. Drain the potatoes (you can save the water to use as soup stock, if you like). Put the cooked potatoes in a large bowl, let cool a bit, and mash coarsely (a potato masher works great for this, natch!).
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the green garlic and a few pinches of salt and saute, stirring occasionally, until tender, 10 minutes or so, reducing the heat to low if it starts to brown. Add the lemon juice and scrape the green garlic on top of the potatoes.
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, 2 tablespoons of the crème fraîche and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Pour this mixture over the green garlic and potatoes, and add the chives (holding back 1/4 cup for the crème fraîche) and the cheeses. Mash everything together until well combined.
Form the potato goop into cakes 3 – 4″ in diameter and 1/2″ tall (a spring-loaded ice cream scoop helps with even portions). Heat a large skillet or griddle over a medium flame, and add enough sunflower oil to coat the bottom, 1 – 2 tablespoons. Place the cakes an inch or so apart in the pan and cook over medium-low heat until golden and crispy, 4 – 5 minutes on each side.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl or jar, combine the remaining scant cup of crème fraîche with the zest of half a lemon and 1/4 cup chopped chives. Season to taste with a few pinches of salt and a turn of pepper.
Serve the warm cakes dolloped with the chive crème fraîche.
Homemade Crème Fraîche
1 cup fresh heavy cream (preferably not ultra-pasteurized)
1 1/2 tablespoons buttermilk or crème fraîche
In a glass jar, stir together the cream and buttermilk until well combined. Place in a warmish spot, such as on top of the refrigerator, and leave for about 12 hours until thickened. During this time, stir or shake the cream once or twice to prevent a layer of fat from solidifying on top (which would result in lumpy crème fraîche). Store the crème fraîche in the fridge for 1 – 2 weeks.