Saturday, April 13, 2013


My personal first-impression of a good restaurant usually is, unless you're standing in front of a street vendor in Southeast Asia, what it looks like. Secondly, what it smells like. Next, who's smiling at you. But these aspects are, at the end of the experience, not terribly important. I can deal with a not-smiling maitre or maitresse. I can deal with a bare floor, formica tables, and paper napkins (you have to if you want to eat Vietnamese, right?). Dirt, of course, does not please me, unless the place has a dirt floor. But, of course, a clean dirt floor. That Bali beach restaurant, for example...
But what I have a little bit of trouble with is a crappy menu. I'm not talking about a finger-spotted, ripped plastic-wrapped thing, bad though that is. Nor am I raving about over-described ingredients. (I am so over crunchy, aromatic, succulent and pungent...just gimme the nouns, please, and gimme my food. Better yet, lose 50% of the nouns, and just gimme the food.)
No, I'm talking about a restaurant that totally misnames a dish.

I was at one the other night, an Italian place I'd happily go back to when someone else is footing the bill (it was the wine list, it was fabulous, and I wanted to have a glass of every red wine they offered, but at $7 or $8 a pop I can drink the cost of an oil change and tire rotation in well under an hour).
But when your appetizer list includes Mozzarella in Carrozza, and then goes on to describe a salad with tomatoes, onions and motz (and lettuce, god save us, so it obviously wasn't an Insalata Caprese), what is a devoted foodie to think? I brought this to the waiter's attention but it went right over his handsome head. He obviously had no idea what "in Carrozza" meant.
And you may not either, but you (unlike the waiter) will learn what it is. It is motz "in a carriage": in other words, inside a case. The old M-in-C was a hollowed out case of bread stuffed with cheese, then deep fried and served with a thick anchovy sauce. A recipe for gastritis, acid reflux, Barrett's Syndrome and off-the-charts cholesterol. And absolutely to die for, even if not made perfectly. I mean, come on, what's not to like about deep-fat fried melted buffalo-milk cheese?
Okay, fast forward to the Food Network and their Italians: this classic dish has now been made into the Italian version of a Croque Monseur, the old French stand-by of grilled ham and cheese. While I was in total shock over this discovery, I checked Nigella Lawson, one of my food gurus, and damned if she doesn't make it the same way (love Britspeak: "white bread can be wodged together"). And nowhere, not even on other sites, is the anchovy sauce mentioned. No anchovies? Are we a nation of no-taste eaters? What is wrong with this pathetic picture? But...could I be wrong? Has my memory finally failed me?
Not bloody likely.
So here's my version of Mozzarella in Carrozza (when you say carrozza, it's kaROTza, by the way):
for each serving, two slices of decent white bread with no holes. You want to use Wonder, I can't stop you. And for godsakes, skip the healthy: don't use wheat. Enough 1/4" slices of motz (real buffalo milk mozzarella is the right one but almost anything, even smoked, will do, or even shredded) to cover bread to within 1/3" of the edges. Paper thin slices of good, red tomato. You use those supermarket hockey pucks, skip this step. Wodge (thank you, Nigella) the bread over the cheese; close those edges. Beat an egg with a splash of milk. Dust the bread surface with flour; coat with the egg mixture. Fry in olive oil (don't waste your EVOO), maybe 3 minutes a side. Keep warm on paper towels in the oven while you make the rest. Eat at once. This does not keep.
Okay, if you love anchovies, your cooking partner has heated over medium heat 1/4C EVOO, 2 smashed garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp each black pepper and red pepper flakes, and 1 can anchovies, heated until the little fishies melt. Stir often so the garlic doesn't get burnt and bitter. Set aside until sandwiches are done.
To plate: cut the sandwiches in quarters. Arrange nicely. Spoon over sauce. Eat. Extra sauce will rescue pasta the next night, maybe with some steamed broccoli tossed in.
Alternative: smear a high-flavored tomato sauce on the bread before putting on the cheese. Add fresh basil leaves or some of that pesto you froze last summer. Be sure to wodge. This can be made with panini bread, by the way, and probably in a panini maker although such fashionable kitchen fripperies are not for me.
Quick & Dirty: Don't go the egg route. Just grill the thing in half and half olive oil/butter. But the anchovy sauce is worth the tiny bit of effort, and from a romance standpoint, it's fun for one of you to do the grilling, the other to prepare the sauce. Then, later, nobody's going eeeuw.
Oh. I never finished the restaurant rant, did I? Sorry, no time, I'm off to make a grilled cheese, a Mozzarella in Carozza.

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