Potatoes and pork were among the featured crops and livestock at this year's Banquet in a Field, so we decided to combine these two popular foods in our new recipe for bacon and chive croquettes. We're so glad we did, because only good things happen when you play with potatoes and bacon.

Potatoes are the top vegetable crop in the United States, with Idaho growing more than any other state. But did you know that North Dakota and Minnesota are also among the top potato-producing states in the nation, ranking fourth and seventh, respectively? In fact, according to the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, the two states combined produce about 6 percent of the entire U.S. potato crop, with the Red River Valley taking the top spot as the largest producer of red potatoes in the country. No wonder we like potatoes so much around here.

Iowa leads the country in pork production, with Minnesota following right behind, ranking third in the nation. North Dakota falls somewhere outside the top 10, but still produces enough pork to equal 57 million pork chops annually. Pork and potatoes are two of our son Giovanni's favorite foods, so naturally he was a factor when we created our croquettes.

A croquette is a breaded and fried ball, oval or patty that typically consists of mashed potatoes along with some kind of meat, vegetables, cheese and herbs. Croquettes have cross-cultural appeal and are popular in various forms all over the world. They are commonly found in Italy, and are even a regional specialty of Sicily, where they are called crocche di patate.

Croquettes are a wonderful way to use leftover mashed potatoes, and can be served as an appetizer or side dish, or even for breakfast. They are affordable, easy to make and satisfyingly delicious, and can be served plain or with a dipping sauce. At the banquet, we served them with sour cream mixed with chives, but you could play around with dipping sauces to suit your preference. I'd like to try them with a honey mustard sauce or roasted red pepper aioli, but even ketchup will do in a pinch.

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In this recipe, we combined mashed potatoes with Parmesan cheese, egg yolks, fresh chives, diced bacon, nutmeg and a bit of flour to bind it all together, then formed the mixture into round balls, using a golf ball as our guide for size.

Next we rolled each ball in flour, then egg wash, and finally coated each one in seasoned breadcrumbs. We like to use finely ground Italian seasoned breadcrumbs for this recipe, but if you prefer panko breadcrumbs, we recommend putting them in a food processor first to produce a finer crumb. The mixture can be made and refrigerated up to three days in advance, and once the balls have been breaded they can be frozen for up to three months before cooking.

You could use a deep fryer to cook the croquettes, but we prefer to go old-school so we just fry ours over medium-high heat in a large saute pan with vegetable oil until crisp and golden brown all over. Once they're ready, we transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain off any excess oil before serving.

The result is a wonderful blend of crunchy and creamy: the crisp, golden brown coating gives way to the oh-so-good and creamy potatoes, followed by a perfect blend of flavors which include crisp and smoky bacon, tangy Parmesan cheese and the delicate spice of chives. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

Potato Croquettes

Makes about 2 to 3 dozen croquettes, depending on size

Ingredients

4 cups mashed potatoes (use leftovers)

4 large egg yolks

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup fresh chives, finely chopped

8 slices cooked bacon, small chopped

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon pepper

3 cups vegetable oil, for frying

Breading Station

1 cup all-purpose flour

6 large eggs mixed with a splash of water or milk

2 cups seasoned Italian breadcrumbs

Directions

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together until well combined. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days before forming into balls.

Roll the mixture into balls, using a golf ball as a reference for size, or form into ovals or patties as desired.

Use pie tins or shallow dishes to set up the breading station, and then roll each ball first in flour, then egg wash, then coat thoroughly with breadcrumbs.

Freeze for up to 3 months at this stage, or cook immediately.

In a large saute pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat and fry the balls until golden brown on all sides. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Serve hot with sour cream and chives or favorite dipping sauce and enjoy.

"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 in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 10-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com and their blog at www.thelostitalian.areavoices.com.