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While a simple dish to prepare, Chef Ben’s Corn Fritters are filled with flavors and ingredients, including fresh sweet corn from local farmers. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Home with the Lost Italian: Simple Corn Fritters celebrate the flavors of season, regional farmers

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One of the best experiences we’ve had as a family has been our exploration of North Dakota.

Our journey began two summers ago when we decided to get lost on the prairie by traveling to a different place in North Dakota every weekend, and it has become an ongoing pursuit.

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We would drive for miles, passing field after field and wondering what the crops alongside us were. Wheat, corn and sunflowers were easy, but the field guide we had said that North Dakota was also one of the leading producers of barley, sugar beets, soybeans, dry edible beans, flax, potatoes, canola, oats and honey, to name a few.

As the crops flashed by our moving car, we found ourselves repeatedly wishing we knew a farmer who could provide us with some answers. How could we have lived in North Dakota, one of the agricultural capitals of the world, for all these years and not know this stuff?

Fortunately, our participation in last week’s inaugural Banquet in a Field event, hosted by Julie and Carl Peterson of Peterson Farms Seed, yielded better results than we could have imagined.

Not only can we now identify all of the above-mentioned crops (albeit within close range), but we also have at least a dozen or so farmers as new friends, and several invitations to visit local farms and even ride a combine.

Our servers for the evening were volunteers from the Future Farmers of America, including some of the state officers. These young people were just amazing – hard-working, polite, adaptable and mature beyond their years.

The event was sponsored by Common Ground North Dakota, a dynamic group of volunteer farm women who are on a mission to connect with those of us outside the world of agriculture in an effort to help us better understand how our food is produced.

Tony and I read about food every day. It’s our livelihood, and we care about what we eat and serve both at home and in our restaurant. With so much information disseminated on the web, in our newspapers and on our TVs, it’s easy to see why many people have become concerned about our food and its production here at home and abroad.

How harmful are pesticides and GMOs? What is the difference between organic farming and conventional farming? Is a tractor the same thing as a combine? Is our chicken really going to come from China?

The women from Common Ground have touched on something by reaching out to non-ag folks to establish personal relationships between both cultures.

Eating is one of the most personal experiences we have as humans, and we have to do it several times a day. By starting the conversation, these farm women give the rest of us an opportunity to meet a food-producer and ask our questions so that we can make informed decisions about the foods we eat.

Last week, 110 non-ag folks from Fargo and Cass County turned out to meet some area farmers, tour plots of 11 different crops and learn the difference between a tractor and a combine. They also had the opportunity to taste foods made with those 11 crops, and one of the most popular appetizers we served was a recipe for Corn Fritters fried in canola oil, created by our Sarello’s executive chef, Ben Walker.

Chef Ben’s fritters are delicious, easy to make and, as one guest told me, “Surprisingly full of flavor for a corn fritter.”

Agriculture is the heartbeat of our state and will continue to be long after the oil boom goes bust. If you have questions about your food, take some time to get to know a farmer. You won’t be sorry, and you might even get to ride a combine.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 9-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com

Chef Ben’s Corn Fritters

Makes: 24-30 fritters

Ingredients:

3 cups flour

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon yellow corn meal

3 tablespoons sugar

¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1½ tablespoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups milk

3 eggs

2 cups fresh sweet yellow corn (approximately three ears)

Canola oil for frying

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine the flour, corn meal, sugar, cayenne pepper, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and milk, then add to the flour mixture and stir or whisk until well combined. Add the corn and gently fold to incorporate. Refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.

Heat 4 inches of oil in a heavy pot or deep fryer to 350 degrees (use a deep-fry thermometer for accuracy). Use an ice cream scoop or spoon to drop the batter into the oil, and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Season with salt as desired. Serve hot with your favorite dipping sauce and enjoy.

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