April 23, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

All about the crunch

By Eleonora Baldwin
Published: 2017-11-16

Then there's fried mozzarella, my mouth-watering favorite. A crisp, golden breaded crust conceals a hot, melting and milky cube of bufala cheese.

In Italian, the verb dorare means "to gild," in cooking terms the act of coating in flour and frying lightly. Alici dorate is a delicious (and easy) recipe for fresh anchovies. I add a fistful of polenta to the flour for extra crunch. I toss the fish in a sealed plastic bag for even coating, discarding excess flour and frying the anchovies in hot peanut oil.

Sicily offers rice balls, arancine or arancini, an architecturally complex snack. Pear-shaped with elaborate fillings, the classic breaded and deep fried rice croquettes are about the size of a fist and traditionally contain meat ragout, mushrooms and stewed peas. Outside Sicily they are almost always made with creamy saffron risotto and shaped into round orbs the size of oranges (the noun arancino means, small orange). In Rome, these rice-flavored bombs change name, shape and filling: bullet shaped supplì are made with ragout-flavored rice, chicken gizzards and conceal a heart of hot mozzarella. Once a leftover, rice croquettes are now a gourmet item with a host of new fillings

In Palermo you'll find panelle, quintessential cucina povera street food. Locals eat these wafer-thin chickpea flour fritters as sandwich filler, stuffed in between halves of a sesame bun. Purists also add cazzilli, small fried potato croquettes. The dressing is a sprinkle of salt and a few drops of lemon juice.

To make sweet and sour sarde in saor, Venetians fry sardines before pickling them with onions, bay leaves, juniper berries, pine nuts, sultanas and vinegar. It's a 14th century recipe that depended on pickled fish for long stretches out at sea. Though eaten year-round, sarde in saor are traditionally associated with annual Festa del Redentore, a religious celebration held the third Sunday of July.

Anything alla Milanese implies the food has been dunked in beaten eggs, dredged in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried. Cotoletta alla Milanese is a savory lean and boneless cutlet of veal, usually taken from the rib, pounded flat, breaded and fried in a combination of frothy butter and olive oil.

Another trademark fried dish is parmigiana di melanzane. Young purple eggplant are sliced, fried and then layered with tomato sauce, grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil leaves. Layers of this typically Southern Italian casserole are sometimes studded with diced mozzarella.

Italian fried foods are fun, light and crisp. Above all they're traditional and in some way celebratory. They should never taste oil-logged, slippery or greasy. As a trick, Italian homemakers fry their batches in advance and then keep the fritto warm in the oven. In the end, it's all about the crunch.

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Eleonora Baldwin

Food-lover Eleonora has two popular blogs, Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino and Roma Every Day.

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