Sunday, January 30, 2011

Super Bowl Snacks, Part 1

Fig.1. Mozzarella in carrozza is Italy's version of grilled cheese. Make sure you use a soft mozzarella to ensure the ooey gooey texture seen above.

The Superbowl is coming up next Sunday, I'm hosting, and I couldn’t be more excited. Yes I’m happy the Packers have made it till the end, but I get more exited with thoughts of food: specifically, with having to plan and conjure up the salty, meaty morsels usually associated with testosterone, sports-and-beer oriented, snack foods. Again, I look to Italy, but rather than look into Nonna’s kitchen or some fancy trattoria in Rome, I look to the streets of Italy.
Italian street food is nothing new, in fact, what we today refer to as fast food existed during the reign of the Caesars in the form of urban street food. Street vendors in ancient Rome fried offal and grilled fish for busy Romans on the run. Today, gnocci fritti can be bought in the towns of Emilia, porchetta panini everywhere in Lazio, and grilled fish can be eaten late at night in the streets of coastal Sicily.

Mozzarella in Carrozza

Mozzarella in carrozza, (Italy’s version of a grilled cheese sandwich, but more like French toast with cheese) is available in most bars and tavoli caldi in Italy. This is the basic version. I've seen it done with all manners of sliced cured meat, and even with a slice of tomato (when they're in season of course) Many Italians also pour tomato sauce over the sandwich, which is quite nice but then requires the use of utensils. Italians refer to the bread used as, pain carré, and while any soft, sliced bread can be used, I like to by a fresh loaf and cut it myself so I can control the thickness. It’s also the perfect dish to make during halftime, just make sure your wife prepares your mise-en-place during the last 5 minutes of the second half.

Fig.2. Stack'em high and eat your troubles away; just don't make a habit of it.

Serves 4

Olive oil, for frying
8 slices of soft white bread, cut thick, crusts removed.
Soft mozzarella (I like to use Mozzarina Mediterraneo by Saputo, but any mozzarella in brine will do, just make sure you drain it properly)
3 eggs
1/3 cup of milk
salt and pepper
flour, for dredging


In a pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat, the oil should reach a ½” up the side of the pan. Assemble your sandwiches by placing a piece of cheese on the bread followed by the top bread. While this might seem obvious, it’s important that the cheese not pass the bread, otherwise the exposed cheese will melt too quickly in the hot oil. Whisk the eggs and the milk until smooth, season with salt and pepper. Using the palm of your hand, press the sandwich down, it’s important that the bread be fresh and soft. Dredge the sandwiches in the flour, making sure you cover all four edges as well as both sides. Shake any excess flour off the bread and dip the sandwiches in the egg mixture. Place in the hot oil, (make sure your oil is not too hot, you can test the oil by dipping a piece of the removed crust in the egg and dropping it in the oil, when it bubbles and fries evenly, the oil is good to go)
Fry until golden brown on both sides and serve immediately.
Recipe can be doubled.

Visual Aides

Fig.3. It's worth going to a bakery and getting a fresh loaf.

Fig.4. Crusts cut off for this grilled cheese. Also, feel free to add other vegetables or animal products to your sandwich. Just make sure whatever you use stays in the center of the bread and that your cheese be not completely covered otherwise the sandwich will not hold when the cheese melts. The peperoni is my sons, while the anchovy fillets are mine.

Fig.5. Press down the bread making sure the outer edges of both pieces touch.

Fig.6. Dredge the sandwiches properly, edges and sides. shake off any excess.

Fig.7. Drown your sandwich in the egg mixture.

Fig.8. Fry sandwiches until hot. Make sure your oil is hot but not too hot (see directions for more information.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Would The Real Mortadella Please Stand Up!

Fig.1. Mortadella sliced fresh by Fabrizio: silky, melt in your mouth and studded with pistachios. The mortadella forms are also much bigger in Italy than they are here.

I can't think of a better way to start the year than with pork! Mortadella is by far the most misunderstood salumi. Unfortunately, the mortadella available to us here in Montreal is an inferior mixture at best: rubbery, over-salted, and more akin to spam than a proper salumi. In Italy, (especially the D.O.P designated mortadella Bologna) most mortadella varieties are made with pork meat, real pork fat (as opposed to processed fat), salt, and pistachios. Anybody who has sampled thinly, sliced, fresh mortadella in Italy will know what I'm taking about: é tutta un'altra cosa (it's something completely different)
The history of mortadella is as layered as its ingredients. Bartolomeo Scappi, probably the most important cook alive during the Renaissance, published a six book tome dedicated to the culinary arts, complete with step-by-step instructions and illustrations. Scappi's recipe for mortadella consisted of pork and pork fat, chopped with two knives into a fine paste, three different spices (he doesn't say which although we can assume salt and pepper to be two of them) dried fennel, mint, marjoram, and wild thyme. Scappi, as well as other cooks in the 1500s and 1600s, gave mortadella "typicality". A term coined by historian John Dickie in his book, Delizia! The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food. "Mortadella", Dickie asserts, "(had) acquired several of typicality's key components: a precise recipe, protective legislation, an exaggerated ancestry, and a heavy investment of civic patriotism."(Dickie141) As Parmesan cheese had become synonymous with the city of Parma, so too would mortadella be with the city of Bologna.

Fig.2. A fresh mortadella panini I had in the beautiful town of Lucca, Nothing else is needed in this sandwich except fresh bread and fresh mortadella.

In Bologna. mortadella is used in many different ways: in omelettes, in tomato sauce (especially in Ragu Bolognese where it's added in cubed form) stuffed in ravioli and tortellini, or, my favourite way, cut thick, pan fried until golden, and drizzled with honey.
Here's a recipe that recreates what mortadella looks like before it's place in a casing and solidified. Serve this pasty mash as an appetizer with some toasted crostini rubbed with garlic.

Fig.3. Spuma di mortadella crostini, I usually let my guests make their own.

Spuma di Mortadella
Puréed Mortadella


1/2 kilo of mortadella, not sliced but cut thick and cubed
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (you want to use the really good stuff here)
1/2 cup shelled pistachios


In a food processor armed with a metal blade, pulse the mortadella, the cheese, the nutmeg and the pistachios until puréed. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a steady stream (if you find the mixture to be too thick, add some more olive oil, if you prefer it thicker add less or mix in some bread.) Season to taste, cover, and refrigerate. Can be prepared a day or two in advance-in fact, it tastes better the next day, just make sure you bring it to room temperature before serving. I also like to sprinkle a few pistachios over the puree. Serve with toasted bread rubbed with garlic or with crackers.

Fig.4. The majority of Canadian mortadella seems to lack pistachios, so add your own.