Who says Italians only eat pasta? Their diet is actually brimming with all manner of grains and vegetables. But lets face it, pasta sells. Actually though, there’s nothing quite as delicious as a sandwich whose roots can be traced back to Italy. The following is inspired by one of my most joyful culinary discoveries made on my first visit to Italy, circa the mid-80’s. Madonna was touring the country in fishnets and I was on my second 100-pound weight loss.
Enough digressing. In the beautiful, medevil town of Siena, I discovered this simple but wonderful northern Italian favorite at a restaurant on those historic cobblestone streets. It’s called Mozzarella In Carrozza and it is, in essence, a gooey, rich, delicious grilled cheese sandwich dipped in egg batter and dusted in flour. My maiden bite almost brought me to tears. I’m a grilled cheese-lover from girlhood but this was something ELSE!
When I stopped eating cow dairy and gluten six years ago I assumed my Mozzarella In Carrozza days were long gone…until I met Chef Bill and he revealed that A) Mozzarella In Carrozza is one of his favorite dishes and B) he could easily make me a clean version with Manchego cheese (a hard sheep cheese with a flavor similar to cheddar) and gluten-free bread. This is one instance when the sometimes cardboardy nature of gf bread can come in handy!
This, my friends, is most definitely a decadent treat. And a perfect one for winter because it’s warm, rich and filling. The traditional method for making this sandwich is to simply egg-batter it, dust the bread in flour and then fry. It’s often served with a side of marinara sauce for dipping. Personally, I love the taste of the oozing cheese so much I prefer it plain, or the Chef Bill method, which he says is inspired by a recipe in cookbook from the now-shuttered Alfredo’s in the Alley restaurant in Burlington. If the anchovy-onion sauce doesn’t appeal to you, by all means, skip it and have your Mozzarella In Carrozza plain or the traditional way. And if you’re cooking for more than two people, simply place the finished sandwiches, uncut, in a slightly warm oven until all are ready. Bon Appetit!
Mozzarella In Carrozza
For the sandwich:
2 slices of gluten-free white bread
1 egg, beaten and set in a shallow dish
Corn starch for dredging (about a half-cup)
salt and pepper, 1/4 teaspoon each
About two ounces of your favorite cheese, sliced and at room temperature
Butter or olive oil for frying
For the sauce:
1 small can of anchovies in oil, reserving oil
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1/8 to 1/4 cup Marsala wine
1/8th cup extra virgin olive oil
Fresh thyme or oregano, about a tablespoon (optional)
Heat butter or oil in a medium sized skilled over medium heat.
Place corn starch, salt and pepper in a shallow dish and sift till blended. Make a cheese sandwich with the bread and cheese. With tongs, place sandwich in the egg wash on each side until coated. Remove with tongs and dredge entire sandwich on both sides, making sure all sides and ends are coated. Using tongs, very carefully set sandwich in the hot pan and fry until golden on both sides.
While the sandwich is frying. Heat the other 1/8th cup of olive oil on medium heat and saute the shallot until translucent. Add anchovies and reserved anchovy oil to pan, mashing and moving around with a wood spoon. Let sauce simmer gently for a minute, then turn the heat to medium-high. Anchovies will reduce. Deglaze pan with Marsala and stir in thoroughly. Turn heat down and let simmer for another minute. Put hot sandwich on plate and cover generously with sauce. Sprinkle with fresh herbs. If preferred, sauce may served on the side.