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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fritto Misto

I love shopping for food. I can't help myself.  I adore dropping by small local markets to see what's tucked on shelves, stuck in nooks, and buried in crannies. During the summer months I have  Farmers' Markets to quench my thirst for interesting and beautiful food. During the lean winter months, I  rely on small local markets, supermarkets, specialty markets, and grocery stores to satisfy my inner shopping needs.  Gorgeous produce, vegetables, meats, fruit, and grains can be found in the most unassuming places.

This past week, I forced myself to stay away from any and all markets.  My pantry, freezer, and refrigerator were overflowing.  I may have wanted something, but I certainly didn't need anything.  I made it a challenge to cook with what I had on hand.

Typical weeknight meals usually don't allow time for long braises, stews, or homemade pasta. Weeknight meals force me to dig into my imaginary culinary 'bag of tricks'.

The freezer.  My beloved freezer.  It houses all my stuff I can't bear to part with.  It's packed and stocked to its limit.  The freezer light can't even cast a glow.   Last night, I pulled 1/2 pound of bulk italian sausage from the freezer to thaw.  It was nestled between gifted not-for-sale beef liver, chicken hearts with gizzards, and whole grain teff flour.  I found 2 small bagged hamburger buns peeking from behind Elmwood Stock Farm chicken wings and a pint of Ben & Jerry's Peanut Brittle Ice Cream. There wasn't enough sausage to build a meal around and the hamburger buns were tiny, but I thought a combination of the two might pair nicely  for italian sausage sliders. Yeah...sliders.  Who doesn't love a good slider? Once the sausage meat completely thawed, I shaped it into two small patties and placed them back into the refrigerator.  Easy.

Sliders with....what?

The vegetable bin.  Oh, the vegetable bin.  The keeper of secrets and black hole of forgotten produce.  After rifling through several half-empty  plastic bags, I found orange cauliflower, radicchio, broccoli, curly parsley, onions, and lemons.  I know me. As I gathered the loot from the vegetable bin,  I knew exactly what I was going to do with the vegetables.  I'd fry them.  All of them.  Fritto misto.  Perfect.

Fritto Misto, translated from Italian, means "fried mix".  Traditionally, it consists of morsels of meat, seafood, or vegetables coated with batter and deep fried.  Hello.  I'll deep fry anything.  And have. 

 Fritto misto is more a method than a recipe. It was embarrassingly simple to prepare. 

Mise en place.  I sliced the vegetables into bite-sized pieces and the lemons into paper thin rounds.  That was it.

Ok.  That prep left plenty of time to enjoy several glasses of wine with Michael while we awaited dinner.

Eventually, I pulled myself from our fabulous coziness and started dinner.  After sauteeing the italian sausage sliders with sliced purple onions until well browned, crispy, and caramelized, I deglazed the pan with Oliva Bella balsamico di modena, a heavenly concentrated balsamic vinegar,  Oh my.  When the sweetly acidic vinegar completely bathed the sliders with a purple haze/glaze, I topped them with fresh mozzarella and slid them into a warm oven to melt the cheese.

After heating peanut oil to 350 degrees until it rippled, I dipped the vegetables in egg wash, dredged them in seasoned flour, tapped off the excess flour, and fried them until golden brown.  After repeating the process with the sliced lemons and fresh parsley, I showered everything with sea salt, cracked black pepper, lemon zest, and fresh lemon juice.

I scooped the sausage sliders onto their toasted buns, filled ramekins with lemon aoili, and piled the fritto misto onto our plates.

My, my, my.

The sliders were sweet, spicy, and dripping with carmelized balsamico. The glaze seemed to trap the moisture within the crispy pan-seared crunchy sweet exterior.  They were crisp and soft at the same time. Gooey sticky candied purple onions balanced the oozing mellow mozzarella cheese.

The fritto misto provided an interesting counter to the fabulous sliders.  They were crispy, well seasoned, and tart from the lemon juice.  The broccoli and cauliflower flavors were intensified from the short fry and seemed almost nutty. They weren't pretty, but they were tasty when swirled through the tart lemon aoili.  The radicchio was pedestrian.  Fried lettuce?  What was I thinking?  Braised radicchio is a glorious thing.  Fried, not so much. The fried thinly-sliced lemon wheels were a revelation. They were sweetly astringent.  Puckery and pleasant.  Lovely.

It was a fun weeknight meal. 

Bold and easy.
Sassy, even.

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