Fritto misto alla fiorentina

Rachel Priestley
January 31, 2013

I took a foreign friend to a local trattoria on my side of the river, diladdarno, to sample a favourite local dish, fritto misto alla fiorentina. When he heard my order, he wondered why on earth anyone would want to deep-fry a beautiful fiorentina steak and, even more perplexing, what would tempt me to order it. Despite his good knowledge of food, he had limited understanding of the language, and he thought I was ordering us a whole bistecca fiorentina, at least 1 kilo of the best Tuscan chianina beef on the bone, to be thrown in the deep-fryer with other things. Not only was my order ‘lost in translation,' but the result would have been utter food death!

 

In Italy, fritto misto is one of those dishes that differs widely across the country. Literally translating to ‘mixed fried,' the mix varies from region to region. Thus, ordering a fritto misto in Rome could result in a plate of lambs' testicles, liver and brain, accompanied by fried apple and vegetables. Order fritto misto in Liguria and you'll get a plate of whole baby fish, calamari, prawns and totani, all dusted in flour and deep-fried. In Puglia, fritto misto is usually battered and fried calamari rings and gamberoni, large whole prawns with their heads. A fritto misto in Naples is often a mix of sweetbreads, brains and liver with some vegetables and local specialties, such as crumbed fried mozzarella and panzarotti (deep-fried ravioli) and Sicilian arancini (fried rice balls). Then again, it could be stuffed, fried zucchini flowers, eggplant and potato croquettes in the spring months alongside zeppoline, deep-fried balls of pizza dough. Piedmont's own version includes local ingredients such as porcini mushrooms, fried sausage and fruit to accompany lamb, other meats and vegetables, with sometimes even cocks' combs thrown in. 

 

If you order a fritto misto di paranza anywhere in Italy, you will probably get a plate of whole baby fish, dusted in flour and fried, the idea being that the fish are small enough to eat whole. When they are, the tails are crunchy and the heads crispy, with the digestive system (usually left intact, even the contents of the stomach), with its slight bitterness and acidic tang, serving as a condiment.

 

The fritto misto alla fiorentina I was ordering contained no fruit, no fish and indeed no testicles, but, instead, creamy crunchy lambs' brains that were golden and crispy on the outside, soft and creamy as a marshmallow on the inside; crumbed fried lamb cutlets; rabbit legs non disossati, with the bone still in; cauliflower florets dipped in batter and fried; crispy whole artichokes; zucchini batons; chicken thighs; and animelle (sweetbreads).

 

When I lived in Paris and wanted to cook lambs' brains, I would go to my local butcher and he would pull whole lambs' heads out of his walk-in cool-room, give a swift whack with the base of his cleaver to the top of the skull to split it in two, pull out the brains, wrap them up in paper and hand them to me. The butchers in Sant'Ambrogio display their lambs' brains in the case, but this doesn't mean they are not as fresh. Especially considering that they are one of the top ingredients in a Florentine fritto misto, the recipe for which I offer here.

 

Buon appetito!

Recipe

Fritto misto alla fiorentina (serves 4)

 

Ingredients

To batter:

4 rabbit legs, 8 small artichokes, peeled of their outer leaves and outer stalk, 2 zucchini, 4 chicken thighs (skin on and bone in), 8 leaves of salvia (fresh sage leaves)

Crumbed:

4 lamb cutlets, 4 lambs' brains

Ingredients for crumbing:

30g flour and half a tsp salt, 2 eggs beaten, ¼ cup dried breadcrumbs

Marinade:

juice and zest of 1 lemon, 2 sprigs rosemary, cut up 6 sage leaves, sliced cracked black pepper, 2 bay leaves bruised, 200ml extra virgin olive oil

Batter:

4 eggs, 30ml extra virgin olive oil, enough flour to mix to a batter

Extra virgin olive oil for frying

 

Preparation

Mix the marinade ingredients together in a bowl, add the pieces of chicken, and rabbit, leave to marinate in the fridge while preparing the other ingredients.

 

Next, clean the brains. Check for chips of bone, wash under cold running water and remove the cerebellum, the cord attaching the brain to the body. Poach in boiling salted water with half a lemon for 5 minutes. Refresh in cold water and peel the membrane from the brain. Cut the brains in half and rest on a paper towel to release excess moisture.

 

Next, prepare the pastella. Whisk the eggs with the extra virgin olive oil. Add enough flour to mix to a fairly thick batter. Crumb the lamb cutlets and brains by dusting in the flour and salt; pass through the egg, then breadcrumbs.

 

Now it is time to fry. Heat up four fingers of the oil for frying in a heavy based pan large enough to fit all the ingredients, and start by adding the rabbit and chicken as they take the longest to cook: drain off the marinade, lightly dust in flour and pass through the pastella and straight into the hot oil. After about 5 minutes add the lamb, wait another two minutes and add the vegetables in pastella, and the sage leaves last. As soon as the sage leaves puff up and colour, remove everything with a slotted spoon and allow to drain. Sprinkle all with salt and place on individual large plates with the ingredient in a circle, and a lemon wedge in the centre.

 

WINE MATCH

Young, fruity and fresh, Dievole's Ciliegolo IGT Rosso Toscano matches well with this dish.

 

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