All about the crunch
By Eleonora Baldwin
recently asked a dear friend who is also a Jewish restaurateur and a fourth-generation Roman why the city's Jews have always relied so heavily on fried foods. His reply was pithy, "Pork envy."
In the city's Jewish quarter, known simply as the Ghetto, fried foods abound. Local cooks created concia, or zucchine alla scapece — a twist on the Spanish word escabeche, for "marinade" or "pickle." Sliced zucchini are fried, marinated in vinegar, chopped garlic and peppermint leaves. The fry-feast also includes filetti di baccalà (battered cod fillets), pezzetti fritti (nuggets of battered deep fried eggplant, squash, carrot and other seasonal veggies), and renowned carciofi alla giudìa — artichoke trimmed of their spiny ends and choke, completely immersed in hot oil, and fried twice. The first fry cooks the artichoke through, which is then lifted out with a slotted spoon and left to cool briefly while the oil heated even further. During the second fry, the artichoke opens like a flower, giving it a splendid copper hue and making it crisp and fragrant. Leaves are plucked off and eaten like chips.
Deep-fry fervor extends well beyond Jewish Rome into central and southern Italy.
Think fritto di paranza (a paranza refers to the fishing net typically pulled by wooden trawlers), a traditional fry of tiny two-inch long fish rolled in flour, deep-fried, served dribbled with lemon juice, eaten heads and all. Purists frown on cleaning the fish, claiming the intestines sharpen the flavor. Shimmery-skinned pesce azzurro, a small silvery-white oily fish, are a perfect paranza choice.
My rule of thumb is to buy fish only in the two-three inch range. In fact, the marketing of other newborn catch – like immature herring, sprat, sardines, mackerel, and bass – is illegal. Depending on season and availability, classic Neapolitan paranza — always to be eaten piping hot — may include small codfish, triglie (red mullet), little sole (in Naples called fricassuàr) anchovies, and rock goby.
Moving from fish to pizza, Naples is also home to calzone fritto, a disk of dough filled with prosciutto, mozzarella, ricotta and Parmesan, folded over into a crescent shape, and then deep-fried.
The montanara, meanwhile, are two-inch discs of fried pizza dough dabbed with tomato sauce, grated cheese and fresh basil. This is street-food fried in vats of boiling lard. Yes, lard.
Fritto misto all'italiana is a deep-fried platter including mozzarella in carrozza (a fried cheese sandwich made with mozzarella, hello!), fiori di zucca (squash blossoms filled with cheese and an oil-packed anchovy, then battered and fried to a golden crisp), olive ascolane (large green olives pitted, stuffed with ground pork, beef and veal meat, then breaded and fried), fried sage leaves and even fried pastry cream called crema fritta. Fried pastry cream is a Mardi Gras Veneto specialty elsewhere served as dessert. In Bologna it has a host of pairings, including quartered and deep-fried artichokes, breaded potato croquettes, battered cauliflower and zucchini.
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