Friday, April 27, 2012

"Fritto Misto Festival" And "Mamma's Fried Cardoon" Recipe

This weekend is the 8th Annual Fried Foods of Italy Festival called “Fritto Misto all’Italiana“. Thousands of foodies flock to the delightful Le Marche, a town of Ascoli Piceno in Italy, from April 25 - May 1, 2012. The meaning of Fritto Misto translates as follows; “fritto” means “fried” and “misto” means “mixed”. This fried finger food festival, (try saying that 3 times fast) includes regional treats from all around Italy.

Ascoli Piceno is a town in the Marche region of Italy and the capital of the province is the same name. Ascoli Olives are one of the most famous products of the Le Marche region. These stuffed olives date back to the 1800s and are a great accompaniment to a glass of regional wine. The olives are served hot and are stuffed (without the pit) by mixing together three types of meat, beef, pork, turkey or chicken. Added to that mixture are cheese, nutmeg, eggs, and then blended with herbs, celery, carrot and onion. Once the olives are filled they are then coated first in flour, then egg and breaded with breadcrumbs, which are fried to perfection. Sounds really very tasty and a great appetizer.

While strolling through the streets at the Fritto Misto festival you can see booths where visitors can taste fried food samples or better known as the Palafritto, (fried food to pass) from different regions of Italy. Various foods that you would be able to sample include fried vegetables such as, cauliflower, artichoke hearts, asparagus, eggplant, and cardoons. Some other specialty foods that you would enhance your taste buds would be the Sicilian Arancini or rice balls, calamari, plus you cannot forget the fried Zeppole. There are also samplings of the local wines and liquors along the streets. Some booths have demonstrations everyday as well as delightful dinners with a concert in the Piazza Arringo every night. Workshops and lectures are also events that take place, and combine the culture plus tradition, not only the fried foods of Le Marche, but also of the other regions within Italy. Some of these lectures include insights to dispel all myths and prejudices that specify the word “FRY” as a cooking technique to avoid.

My parents are both 100% Italian. I can’t remember a holiday or Sunday dinner that would not have some type of fried foods on the menu. My mom still to this day includes fried vegetables with our family dinners. The veggies are cut up in smaller pieces, which make them more appealing to young children. They also cook better when they are the same size. My mom uses the freshest ingredients and when she is frying them on the stove she can see with the corner of her eyes that some of the fried veggies are being stolen from the plate. So, it seems that we are eating them as fast as she is making them. I must confess that I was the thief one time, ok, maybe twice but I can not take the blame for all the other times, and you know who you are!

Mom & Dad (1999)
One of my family’s favorite vegetables to fry is the Cardoon. The Cardoon is a celery-like looking vegetable that is closely related to the artichoke. It comes from the thistle family and is grown in southern Italy. Its unique flavor tastes like the artichoke. The Cardoon is found in most grocery or Italian specialty stores. They are harvested in the Spring. The best months to purchase Cardoons from a farmers market would be in May, June and July. Once the outer thick stalks are removed, you can cut it in small pieces or lengthwise, and can be fried, braised, steamed and even added to soups.

My recipe this week is “Mamma’s Fried Cardoons” which is one that my mom taught me when I was younger. It is really delicious, sweet, but crunchy. You can serve these hot with any meal as a side dish or even as an appetizer. So enjoy "Fritto Misto" this weekend as you make your own “fried finger food frenzy“.  Now that’s a mouth full!!
Cardoon Stalk

Mamma’s Fried Cardoons

1 cardoon stalk (think celery) about 2 lbs
1 cup of flour
2 to 3 beaten eggs
1 to 2 cups of flavored breadcrumbs
3/4 cup of Pecorino Romano grated cheese
1/2 cup of vegetable oil (add more if needed)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Prepare cardoons by first removing the excess leaves, roots and rough parts of the stalks. Rinse with cold water, scrub with vegetable brush to remove “string” from other parts of the stalk. Boil in salted water for about 10 minutes or until knife tender. Avoid overcooking or stalks will be mushy. The younger the plant, the shorter the boiling time. Prepare 3 dishes; one with flour, one with beaten eggs, salt and pepper to taste; and the third dish with the mixture of breadcrumbs combined with cheese. Bread the stalks very gently, first with the flour, then the egg mixture and the last with breadcrumbs. Pre-heat pan and add vegetable oil. Fry cardoons till golden brown and crispy by turning them in the oil. Remove from pan and drain on paper towel. You may want to add more salt and pepper serve while hot, if they last till dinner.

Till Next Time……

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