Joyful Hanukkah dinners gone past...
I remember as if it were yesterday: the first time my husband Marc and I attended Didi Conn's Hanukkah dinner. A fire was roaring in the fireplace, the dining room table was sumptuously dressed with peach-colored ranunculus, and Champagne was being poured into every glass. The feeling of warmth, of joy, was deep and immediate. It enveloped you like a warm fuzzy sweater.
No sooner had we arrived than trays and trays of latkes came out of the kitchen - each looking so appetizing and smelling so incredibly good that we all dove in. They were gone in a flash!
Since that magical winter's night, Didi and I have enjoyed getting together often to cook... and eat! Then one day it dawned on me: Wouldn't it be fun to do a French version of Didi's grandmother's famous latkes? Didi's response? "Let's do it!"
The classic Jewish potato pancakes get a French makeover!
But how would we "frenchify" (or should I say, Frenchy-fy) our latkes? One obvious solution would be to make them with leeks - after all, potatoes and leeks are a classic French combo. And how about cutting the potatoes shoestring size (just like pommes paille) to make those latkes extra delicate and crisp?
It was a good call. The latkes turned out so unbelievably delicious, and we had so much fun, that we decided to make this video. (Watch it above.)
Light, crisp and - thanks to the pan-fried leeks - a little sweet, these latkes will be right at home on your Hanukkah table (or at any festive dinner party).
So here's to the festival of lights... and to my sweet friend, Didi!
A vintage Champagne is a most sublime accompaniment to these latkes! Because of the lengthy time they spend resting, vintage Champagnes boast a creamy, luscious mouthfeel and fresh-baked brioche notes that are marvelous with the rich-tasting, slightly sweet latkes. (For a less expensive pour, try a "perry" (pear hard cider) or a sparkling apple hard cider.)
Potato latkes with leeks
makes 20 medium latkes or serves 4
active time: 30 min
1 1/4 lbs (565 g) russet potatoes
1 large leek
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 extra large eggs - lightly beaten
olive oil for the pan
1/2 cup crème fraîche
dill sprigs as garnish
Step 1: Peel the potatoes and cut in half crosswise. Using a mandoline, cut each half crosswise again in julienne slices (about 4 cups). Alternatively, use a medium hand-grater or food processor with shredder attachment. Place the slices in a large bowl and fill bowl with cold water to cover. Set aside for at least 30 minutes, up to 2 hours. For the leek, cut the roots off and cut 2″ off the top of the dark green leaves. Cut the leek in half lengthwise and thoroughly rinse it to get all the grit out, but make sure to keep the leaves together. Lay the leek halves cut-side-down to drain on a clean kitchen towel. Then cut each half crosswise in 2 1/2″ pieces and cut each piece lengthwise in 1/8″ julienne slices. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of leek slices. Place in a separate bowl and set aside.
Step 2: Drain the potato slices and place on a clean kitchen towel. Blot out all moisture and transfer to a large bowl. Add the leek slices and toss well. Sprinkle with the flour, salt and pepper. Toss well again. Drizzle with the eggs and stir until well blended. Transfer to a colander or medium-meshed sieve and suspend over a bowl. Let the potato mixture drain for 15 minutes. This step will make the latkes crispier, as the mixture will lose a lot of moisture.
Step 3: Heat a large heavy-bottomed frying pan over high heat. Add enough oil to generously cover the pan. Using a regular fork and spoon, grab 1/3 cup of the potato/leek mixture and place in the hot oil. Shape each latke into a 1 1/2″ x 3″ patty and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes until golden-brown. Flip the latkes and sauté for another 2 minutes until golden-brown, reducing the heat when the pan gets very hot so that the oil doesn't burn. Transfer to a tray lined with paper towels. Repeat until the potato mixture has all been used up, adding more oil to the pan as necessary. Place the latkes on a serving platter. Spoon a dollop of crème fraîche on top of each latke. Garnish with a dill sprig and serve immediately.
Cook's note: For the crispiest latkes, serve them as soon as they're made. However, the latkes can be prepared up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated. To reheat, place on a baking tray and bake at 375°F (190ºC) for 6 to 7 minutes until sizzling.
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