I think, if I concentrate very hard, I can remember the first moment I became aware of Mozzarella cheese and its magical qualities when melted: I was a smallish child, and we were having dinner at Marine Ices in Chalk Farm, the scene of many birthday dinners. I remember watching in wonder as, when I lifted a slice of pizza, long strands of cheese clung to the base, stretching ever-thinner until, when they’d become mere wisps, they finally let go, ready to be shovelled mouthwards. Beguiled, I asked what this wonderful substance was, and I was told.
I can’t be alone in having had my mind blown by this phenomenon as a child and, whilst in adulthood I’ve enjoyed many a salad of firm, beefy tomatoes interleaved with creamy Mozzarella, scattered with salt and basil and drizzled with green-golden, peppery olive oil, the cheese in its melted form still awakens a flicker of delight in me; a novelty, but one that backs itself up with substance.
So, fast-forward to the other day and, as I sat, in a rather well-refreshed state in the lovely Cottino’s Skafferi in Islandstorget (I’m not sure the joy at finding out you have a very good Italian deli spitting distance from your house, if you can spit quite far, is quite so universal as that of discovering Mozzarella as a child, but it’s what I was feeling at that moment) my eye fell upon a moon-white, firm-looking ball of buffalo Mozzarella and I knew at once that I must have it.
Flicking through Real Fast Food the following morning, I alighted upon ‘Mozzarella in Carrozza’ in the less-visited earlier section of the book, and it sounded just the thing to counteract the effects of the kind of drinking that makes one buy cheese on impulse. I’d never come across it before, but it follows the standard technique of breadcrumbing and frying something (flour, egg, breadcrumbs, in that order) except, rather than the something in question being a piece of fish or meat, it’s an entire cheese sandwich. The sheer lunatic decadence of that idea meant I had to try it.
First I cut a couple of fairly thin slices of bread (I used a slightly stale, quite bubbly slice of white sourdough, which was perfectly suited to the job, but I think you could use Mighty White for this and it would still be delicious), sliced up the entire ball of Mozzarella and made two sandwiches. I gave them a good press down, then brushed both with milk before dusting them in seasoned flour, dipping them in a beaten egg, then pressing each into a bowl of panko breadcrumbs (I think you could use any good quality breadcrumbs here, just not the radioactive-orange ones you get in a tube from the all-night garage when you’ve run out). I heated a finger’s depth of oil in a pan (you’re not looking to deep-fry here, but it’s important that the oil comes roughly half way up the sandwich so the breadcrumbs seal around it and it doesn’t fall apart) and fried my crumbed sandwiches for about three minutes a side, til crisp and golden.
Eating them was everything you’d hope; crispy, oozy, stretchy, rich, salty and almost achingly decadent. For the first few moments, I experienced something close to pure happiness at the idea that such a thing as this not only exists, but has a place in the canon of Italian classics. I think this is food best eaten for lunch, alone. If I were to make it again, I’d eat it outside, with a sharply dressed, citrussy salad, perhaps with a very cold beer. Even thinking about it now makes me want to dash over to Cottino’s to stock up.
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