Everyone has at least one strange, secret food preparation, consumed surreptitiously when alone and never, ever shared with others. I recall how M.F.K. Fisher secretly enjoyed the tangerine segments that she would warm on the radiator until plump and then chill in the snow on the windowsill, creating a crisp shell enclosing cool sweet pulp. I know someone who confesses to eating goldfish crackers and milk together in a bowl with a spoon, like cereal.
I believe most of these odd, private recipes are accidental discoveries. My own favorite clandestine food came about as an offshoot of my grandmother’s frugality.
Nana made wonderful breaded fried foods. Veal cutlets, fish fillets, or pork chops were dusted with flour, dipped in beaten eggs and coated in Italian-seasoned dry breadcrumbs. They were then fried in hot olive oil on each side until crisp and golden and served immediately with fresh lemon wedges to squeeze over them. These dishes were so simple, yet so delicious.
As a child I used to help Nana in the kitchen with the breading process. After breading all the meat, there were always some leftover beaten eggs and breadcrumbs. So as not to waste good food, Nana would mix the two together to make a thick batter, drop spoonfuls into the hot olive oil, and fry them on both sides. These bread crumb patties had a golden crisp crust surrounding a surprisingly bread-like interior. They were warm and flavorful, and fragrant from the seasonings and the olive oil. These were my treats, made just for me for helping, and I devoured them.
Now many years later, on late nights alone when I crave something simple and comforting, I’ll make these bread crumb patties for myself. With the fist bite, I think, “Wow, these are good. I should serve them to others.” But then I realize that perhaps my enthusiasm for them is more a nostalgic memory of helping Nana in the kitchen than an actual reflection of the tastiness of the patties. So I never shared this secret dish before, until now.