I was so very pleased to read in the paper the other day that frying need not to be bad for you, especially if you fry in olive oil. The news didn’t come as a surprise—I had always figured if Angelina managed to live to be 98 eating fried foods all the time, it couldn’t be nearly as toxic as modern-day health nuts made out. Still, it was nice to see folk wisdom, once again, confirmed by empirical evidence.
Fried foods are a mainstay of Italian cookery. There’s an old saying that “even a shoe tastes good when it’s fried”—as true a sentiment as I can imagine. In our family, one of Angelina’s signature dishes was fried mixed vegetables, usually including asparagus, cauliflower, artichokes, which appeared as an antipasto at many a Sunday dinner.
Another vegetable that lends itself wonderfully to frying is the mushroom. But given their irregular shape and small size, frying whole, individual mushrooms—while possible—is not very practical for the time-pressed home cook. In this recipe from Puglia, mushrooms are chopped and sautéed, then folded into a thick batter to be deep-fried. The resulting fritters make for a great (and addictive!) snack, an antipasto, a part of a fritto misto or even a light vegetarian second course.
Ingredients (to serve 4)
For the mushrooms:
1 lb. mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 handful of parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
For the batter:
3/4 cup water
1-1/2 cups flour
Salt and pepper
A few spoonfuls of grated parmesan cheese
For deep frying:
Olive oil (or a mixture of olive and canola oils)
Sauté the mushrooms in a bit of olive oil with the garlic and parsley, and seasoning lightly with salt and pepper, as if you were making funghi trifolati. (Be sparing with the oil.) Let cool.
Beat the egg and water together, and whisk in the flour little by little until you have a homogenous batter.
Add the mushrooms to the batter. Season the batter with a bit more salt and pepper—not too much as the mushrooms are already seasoned and, if using the grated cheese. As you add ingredients, fold everything together well with a spatula until the mushroom and batter mixture is quite uniform.
Now heat abundant oil in a pan, at least one inch (3 cm) deep. When the oil is hot (but not boiling) drop spoonfuls of the mushroom batter into abundant hot oil, keeping them well spaced. Deep fry until golden brown, proceeding in batches if need be, and transferring the fritters as they are done to a tray lined with paper towels or (my preference) a cooling rack placed over a baking sheet.
Serve hot, sprinkled with some additional salt if you like.
NOTES: This recipe will work with just about any type of mushroom, but of course the more interesting the mushroom, the better the fritters will taste. A mushroom mix of the kind often sold in better supermarkets is a nice choice. The traditional recipe calls for adding raw chopped mushrooms into the batter—if you take that approach, then I’d suggest limiting yourself to tender-fleshed mushrooms like chanterelles or oysters.