You probably can’t hit a target from 50 meters while lying flat on your stomach in the snow, or execute a perfect Biellmann spin, or pull off a wicked backside triple cork 1440. If you’re like me, chances are you don’t even know how to ice-skate backwards without posing a danger to yourself and others.
I can, however, tell you about a simple culinary trick that’ll make you feel like an Olympian. Because even if you’re incapable of conquering Black Diamonds, you can make mozzarella sticks. Yes, you!
Maybe I shouldn’t be this proud just because I successfully made a homemade version of history’s least sophisticated appetizer. I was fairly shocked to find a recipe for them in Nonnie’s cookbook in the first place—though of course, she calls it “mozzarella marinara,” a holdover, perhaps, from those long-ago days when pizza was considered “ethnic food,” and fried cheese smothered in Prego could carry a whiff of the exotic.
Honestly, I expected them to be a disaster. The panko got all glooped up with egg wash when I was trying to bread the cheese, which made it nearly impossible to get an even layer of crumbs on each piece; I was certain that my misshapen, monstrous-looking creations would explode (or at least ooze their cheesy guts everywhere) the second they hit a Dutch oven filled with 350° oil.
But to my very pleasant surprise, the sticks ended up holding together—even when I popped them in the oven to stay warm until my guests arrived. And when matched with an unusually rich marinara sauce? Well, they were practically worthy of a golden-brown medal.
1 ball of mozzarella
1 egg, beaten
Seasoned bread crumbs [I used pre-seasoned panko, although you could definitely season them yourself; Bon Appetit has instructions that look pretty solid if you opt to go that route]
[Nonnie doesn’t include flour on the ingredient list, but you’ll need it too. Surprise!]
Oil for frying
Cube mozzarella cheese [Nonnie thinks the word “mozzarella” should be capitalized–cute!] into 3″ by 2″ pieces. [Her instructions are missing a dimension, which is why I opted to cut them into sticks instead of cubes; I also figured that would make them better finger food.]
Dip each piece into egg, then into flour, into egg, and then into bread crumbs, which have been mixed with parmesan cheese. (Use 1 tablespoon cheese per cup crumbs.) [Warning: it’s going to get messy, and your crumbs will get hopelessly saturated with errant egg wash. Nevertheless, you must persist.]
Place breaded cheese on a plate, in a single layer, and chill for an hour. Heat oil, about 1/2 ” deep, in a large skillet until very hot.
Fry cheese cubes on one side until brown. Turn and brown other side. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Spoon sauce onto plate, put cheese pieces in sauce, and spoon more sauce on top. [Or serve them on a platter, with a side of marinara for dippin’—bar-food style. Because why would you want to immediately ruin that beautiful crust?]
1/4 cup oil [That’s a lot of oil! In fact, it’s too much; see “the verdict” below]
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced parsley
2 cups tomatoes, chopped and peeled, or canned [This is an annoying amount, considering the dimensions in which tomatoes are sold; I used a 28 oz can, plus two small tomatoes]
1/2 teaspoon basil [presumably dried; measuring a teaspoon of fresh basil seems fussy]
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup minced onion
Heat oil. Add onion, garlic and parsley. Cook until garlic is lightly browned. Add other ingredients, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
The Verdict: The sauce, alas, is way, way too oily as written—so much that you can actually taste the oil itself. I fixed it by adding another 14 oz can of tomatoes to the mix, as well as some tomato paste (to further deepen the flavor), additional oregano, and more salt.
The resulting sauce was still richer than the average marinara, but its deep tomatoey flavor made it a perfect foil to the mozzarella sticks themselves—which were ugly and clunky and greasy… and incredibly delicious. Want proof? The picture below is just about the only one I took of the finished product, because they disappeared so quickly I hardly had a chance to snap another shot. I’m not sure anyone should ever eat endless mozzarella sticks—but if you’re forced, ask for this recipe. You won’t be disappointed.