Crocchette di latte, milk croquets
The best ever recipe were ‘crocchette di latte’, milk croquettes. I used to make them now and then, usually for special occasions. Christmas, birthdays, you know. That is, until disaster struck and I haven’t made them since.
Most people liked them, but one friend in particular simply adored those ‘fritti di latte’. The croquettes tasted just as the ones her mother made, she said. So I was flattered when she asked me to prepare milk for her 70th birthday. You should know she’s an excellent cook and people line up to be invited to her renowned dinners.
So far I had made them rather approximately. Using the cheese and breadcrumb I had available. And none where ever the same size. That had to change.
For 14 days in a row I prepared crocchette. Sometimes in the afternoon, mostly in the evening. That is how I figured out to balance the sharpness of the pecorino cheese with some processed cheese. The coating too took time to master. Slightly beaten egg white, no yolk. Instead of regular breadcrumb I settled on the Japanese panko. Which I oven toasted.
The shape was another pressing issue. If you make the croquettes too big, they need two bites. And after the first bite, the hot milky mixture oozes out. Not ideal for finger food. Make the too small and they loose significance, dignity. So I settled on a format that could be eaten in one bite, without filling your whole mouth. A pleasant bite, that allowed people to continue a conversation while eating.
I will not bore you on how many kinds of oil I tried. The best, by far, was sunflower oil.
Still I was nervous on the evening of the celebration. My friend had prepared an infinity of beautiful decorated dishes. A sight for sore eyes. She was generous and placed my croquettes right in the middle of the table, surrounded with the best Sicily has to offer.
People adored the crocchette. They complimented me. Profusely. And soon the only topic where the damned crocchette. Everybody was reaching for them. And when they finished, people asked if there were more. Some even went to the kitchen to look for them. My friend was livid.
The following day she called me and asked not to prepare them ever again. A week later she soften that verdict to not bringing them to her house ever again.
Start of by making bechamel sauce. Equal parts of butter and flour, and add milk. Just make sure it is a thick sauce, so go easy on the milk. Half way through, season with little pepper and salt but abundant nutmeg. The pattern you whisk leaves in the sauce should only slowly fade. That is how thick the sauce should be.
Switch off the heat and add cheese. One quarter of ugly processed cheese for three quarter of aged pecorino cheese. Parmesan does the trick, too.
Pour the sauce on a large tray. Let the sauce spread, don’t help it doing so. It knows how thick it must be. Let the sauce set and keep the tray in a fridge for no less than six hours.
Prepare three plates: one with all purpose flour, one with lightly beaten egg white and one with oven roasted panko.
Cut the solidified bechamel, toffee -or even better, praline- size. Pass them gently through the flour first, then egg white and eventually give them a breadcrumb coating. Gently push the croquettes in the panko, making sure the shape does not alter.
You may fry them straight away, in 185 degree sunflower oil for about three minutes, or till they turn golden brown. Or freeze them and fry them when needed.
Don’t serve them straight from the fryer. Let them drain from excessive oil first. Give them time to cool just enough so eating them does not hurt.