Rachel Roddy’s recipe for cauliflower, potato and mint fritters

<span>Rachel Roddy’s cauliflower, potato and mint fritters.</span><span>Photograph: Rachel Roddy/The Guardian</span>
Rachel Roddy’s cauliflower, potato and mint fritters.Photograph: Rachel Roddy/The Guardian

Walking home the other afternoon, I passed a car with a weed growing around one of its tyres. I found myself stopping, so I looked to see where the weed started and where it ended – it went almost all the way around it, like a snow chain.

It was only when I was right down near the tyre, surrounded by the smell of weed and rubber, that I realised I had done exactly the same thing during the first lockdown. Not with the same car, but one similar – which, like so many cars in so many cities, sat in the same spot for so long that the weeds took over and started using it as a climbing frame. For two odd, vertiginous seconds, it was lockdown again. Then I found the start of the weed in the crack where the pavement met the road, along with a cigarette butt and a damp lottery ticket, rotting leaves and other weeds, including a tuft of mentuccia.

Mentuccia, or nepitella, or lesser calamint, grows all over the place in southern Europe. While its small, furry, serrated leaves are similar to those of oregano, the scent of mentuccia is a mix of sage and spearmint. This can be disconcerting at first, because the combination has something of cat pee about it. But beyond that comes a musky-fresh-savoury scent that – aside from sounding like a breathless advert for men’s deodorant – is a wonderful herb that improves with cooking. It grows all over the place in Rome and Lazio, so it is hardly surprising that mentuccia is such a significant and distinctive part of many traditional dishes. Rome is certainly where I learned to use it, with all sorts of mushrooms, and also with tripe, eggs, and stuffed with garlic into artichokes. Mentuccia, like all varieties of mint, is also good with potatoes, which is why it works so well in potato, cauliflower and chickpea flour fritters, which can be shaped any way you like: big, small, fat, thin …

Yoghurt, grated cucumber and garlic, or simply yoghurt with salt and red chilli flakes are both great with these fritters, as is a salad of very finely shredded red cabbage, grated apple and roughly chopped walnuts, dressed with olive oil, red-wine vinegar and a spoonful each of honey and dijon mustard.

I would usually note that these fritters, like most fried foods, are best eaten as soon as possible out of the pan. However, the other day, just when I had just finished frying them, I dropped a bottle of tomato passata on the floor, where it didn’t just break, but exploded, reaching every corner of the kitchen. The fritters sat on a plate, barely covered by a sheet of kitchen towel, in the warm corner of the kitchen for about half an hour before we ate them. Only just warm and a bit floppy, they were also tastier, because the flavours had settled and the mentuccia, which can get lost when things are very hot, had come through the cracks.

Cauliflower, potato and mint fritters

Prep 15 min
Chill 1 hr+
Cook 20 min
Makes 12-15 fritters

1 large potato (about 200g), peeled and quartered
1 small cauliflower, trimmed and broken into medium florets
1 egg
g chickpea (gram) flour, or dry breadcrumbs
1 small handful mint, or mentuccia, minced
1 heaped tbsp grated parmesan, grana padano or pecorino
, for loosening (optional)
Olive oil and butter
, for frying

Boil the potato in well-salted water and add the cauliflower after 10 minutes. Once both are tender, drain well.

Pass the potato and cauliflower through a food mill or ricer (or mash them), the add the egg, chickpea flour, mint, cheese and salt. Use your hands to bring everything together into a firm mixture; if it feels very stiff, add a little milk.

Form the mixture into patties about 5cm diameter by 1cm thick, shaping them well. Then, if possible, chill the patties for an hour or so and up to 24 hours, to firm up.

Heat a little oil and butter in a large nonstick frying pan and fry the patties in batches and on both sides, until golden. Serve with seasoned yoghurt and salad.