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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
Fritto misto alla fiorentina (serves 4)
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)
cutlets, 4 lambs’ brains
Ingredients for crumbing:
and half a tsp salt, 2 eggs beaten, ¼ cup dried breadcrumbs
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
4 eggs, 30ml
extra virgin olive oil, enough flour to mix to a batter
Extra virgin olive oil for frying
marinade ingredients together in a bowl, add the pieces of chicken, and rabbit,
leave to marinate in the fridge while preparing the other ingredients.
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.
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.
fruity and fresh, Dievole’s Ciliegolo IGT Rosso Toscano matches well with this