Valentine's Day Recipe: Fritto Misto

Fritto Misto
Photo: Maria Zizka

Fritto Misto

In Italian, fritto misto means mixed fried things. That vagueness -- flexibility, really -- is what this dish is all about. You can fry any ingredient that you like. My favorites are sliced fennel, squid tentacles, paper-thin lemon rounds, and whole herbs.

Serves 6 as an appetizer

1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Vegetable oil, for frying (about 5 cups)
1 lemon
½ small fennel bulb
12 shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/3 pound cleaned squid
¼ pound mushrooms (such as oyster, chanterelle, or maitake)
8 parsley sprigs
¼ cup white wine, chilled
1 cup sparkling water, chilled
Coarse salt, for sprinkling

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In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, cayenne, and salt.

Pour the oil into a wide, heavy pot and heat to 350°F. While the oil warms up, prepare the ingredients for frying: Slice half the lemon as thinly as possible into rounds and remove any seeds. Trim the root and stem end of the fennel, then cut lengthwise into very thin slices. Rinse the shrimp and squid and pat completely dry with paper towels. If the shrimp are bigger than bite-size, slice them in half lengthwise. Cut the squid bodies into ½-inch-thick rings, but leave the tentacles whole. Trim the mushroom bottoms, removing any tough parts of the stem, and cut or tear into bite-sized pieces. Rinse the parsley and dry thoroughly.

When the oil is hot and you are ready to fry, gradually pour the wine and sparkling water into the flour mixture, whisking constantly until smooth. Dip a handful of ingredients into the batter and carefully drop into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown and crisp, about 2 - 4 minutes, depending on the size of the ingredient. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fritto misto to a platter lined with a brown paper bag. Sprinkle generously with coarse salt. Cut the remaining half lemon into wedges and serve them on the side for squeezing.

Continue to fry the remaining ingredients in small batches so as to not overcrowd the pot. I like to fry one batch, serve it piping hot, then cook the next batch, and so on. Once you get into a rhythm, it can feel a lot like dancing.

Related recipes:
3 Valentine's Day Cocktails
Chocolate-Covered Strawberries
Spaghetti and Meatballs
The Embrace Cocktail

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