Friday, March 29, 2013

The Person who Made the Very First Potato Pancake Probably Drank Gruner Veltliner

Imagine this: maybe 150-200 years ago, somewhere in eastern Europe, a person of modest means is thinking of what to cook for the family. It's winter and there's not a lot to choose from. In the cellar there are potatoes and onions. There is a sack of flour. There are some eggs, there is a bit of butter. Perhaps it was in a setting like this one when a person had the brilliant idea of making potato pancakes?

I have no idea at all if this is true. Maybe a trained chef at an Austrian cooking school invented the dish. Maybe the potato pancake was invented 75 years ago, or 300 years ago. Isn't it interesting to imagine how a person, someone who must be a creative and brilliant chef, is able to take familiar and humble ingredients and come up with something that is so delicious that it proliferates the way a potato pancake, for example, proliferates?

I like making potato pancakes with the daughters. The other night they were the center of a meal, along with a little split pea soup and a cucumber salad. Couldn't be simpler - peel and grate 2 russet potatoes. Sprinkle with a little salt and let them sit a few minutes so that they begin to release their water. Squeeze out as much water as you can, add two beaten eggs, a tablespoon and a half or so of flour, some salt, and a tablespoon or two of finely grated onion (more or less as you please). Mix well, fry in butter, et voila.

Although it's important to remove the water from the potatoes before making the batter, this is a forgiving dish. On this evening we got distracted from our cooking for maybe 5 minutes, and still the potatoes continued to release water, or maybe the bond between the egg and the potato began to relax. But there was liquid in the bottom of our batter bowl.

No matter - we lifted out large spoonfuls of batter and pressed them into pancake-shaped discs in a hot pan of butter. This is one of those simple dishes whose aroma will bring neighbors to the front door, the perfect time to come and say hello.

Turn the pancakes after a few minutes when they are golden brown on the bottom. Remove after another few minutes and let them rest a moment on a paper towel, getting rid of some excess butter.

Six year-old daughters can peel Persian cucumbers, and can even help chop them into large chunks, if we hold the knife together. They can salt cucumbers and add a little vinegar, and stir.

They can not, however, drink a glass of 2011 Bernard Ott Gruner Veltliner Am Berg. For this, I feel badly for them, although their time will certainly come. Right now they think wine is gross and don't even want to taste it. The wine, be the way, has improved since last year, showing a lovely airy freshness, herbal and creamy notes, and good balance. A great value at about $18 before any sort of case discount.

With a bowl of split pea soup with chunks of carrot and little bits of ham (calm down, also home made), the humble potato pancake and the humbler cucumber salad make a very good dinner.

The person who first thought to create a pancake out of a few potatoes, an onion, a few eggs, some flour and salt - this is a person who must have enjoyed wine with their meal. Perhaps it was home made from a few rows out behind the house? Maybe it was even a Gruner Veltliner.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Latkes on Passover? My brain can't compute this. I'll be in an identity crisis all day now. But they sure do look delicious (stop that! My eyes shouldn't even LOOK at flour!).