Crocché (pronounced like "croquet")
is a tasty snack food invented in Sicily, influenced by the popular French croquette, during the seventeenth century when
potatoes - a New World tuber - literally took root in Sicily. Nowadays these
"potato fritters" are most often served as an appetizer. We might
almost think of crocché as Sicily's answer to french fries, though it must be said that
there are variations of the croquette in cuisines around the world. The name
recalls croccante, the Italian cognate of crunchy, as well as the French croquer, and the
best crocché are fried just the right way, leaving a crusty exterior.
Like sfincione, the rather esoteric spleen sandwich and stigghiola,
crocché are "street food." Arancine
(rice balls) enjoy a slightly loftier place in the Sicilian culinary hierarchy
and are usually served in restaurants. Unfortunately, the humble crocché
usually served commercially in Sicily, whether in restaurants or by street
vendors, is a pale imitation of the real deal. What you are often served
in restaurants are actually little more than fried lumps of mashed potatoes.
The real thing is a whole other story.
Real crocché are made with mashed potatoes (the main ingredient),
fresh eggs, sharp grated Italian cheese (Sicilian caciocavallo
is ideal), a dash of black pepper and - a final but essential touch - a
sprinkling of freshly chopped mint leaves. No milk, flour or even salt (the
last is unnecessary given the presence of a sharp Italian cheese).
Here's a basic recipe. Measurements are somewhat subjective but we'll
stick to generalities.
Mash about a pound (around a half kilogram) of boiled potatoes and allow
to cool to room temperature. (Do not use instant potatoes.) Mix three
or four whole (raw) beaten eggs and about a half-cup of finely grated Italian
cheese into the potatoes. (If you can't obtain Caciovallo, then sharp Pecorino
or Romano are better than Parmesan.) Next, add about a quarter-cup of finely
chopped fresh mint leaves and a half tablespoon of ground black or white
pepper and mix thoroughly. It may be necessary to add a little water but
the consistency of the mixture should be dense and pasty rather than creamy
so that the crocchés retain their shape during cooking.
Form the crocchés so that each is about 2 inches (5 centimetres)
long, similar to those in our photograph. Anything larger may fall apart
or fail to cook all the way through. There are two ways to cook them:
• The "healthier" method is to place them in a flat plate and microwave
them to cook the insides, then fry them in refined (not virgin) olive oil
in a flat pan, turning them two or three times to achieve a delicate crust.
• Another approach is to quickly deep fry them (omitting the microwave step) as you would french fries.
Whichever method you choose, don't overcook. The outside should be slightly crunchy while the inside
should be cooked but soft. To drain the excess oil from the cooked crocchés,
set them on a a layer of clean (white) paper towels for a minute immediately after
frying. It may take some practice to master the method, so don't be discouraged
if your crocchés don't turn out picture perfect on your first attempt.
Crocchés are best served hot and crunchy, like french fries, and
they're just as addictive. But don't serve them with ketchup! True Sicilians
eat crocchés with a bit of fresh lemon juice.
About the Author: Roberta Gangi has written
numerous articles and one book dealing with Italian cultural and culinary
history, and a number of food and wine articles for Best of Sicily Magazine.