Mozzarella di Bufala Salad with Pepper Cream Sauce
By: Amy Gulick
Grilled and fried cheese dishes figure prominently in Southern Italian cuisine, often taking the place of meat at the table, served as a second course or main dish and accompanied by salad or vegetables. Out of this tradition we get some amazing recipes, such as grilled scamorza or provola and frittelle di ricotta (fried ricotta 'pancakes'). The recipe here calls for buffalo mozzarella, arguably the superstar of the Italian cheese world, but could in fact be made with thick slices of different cheeses (those mentioned above, for example). The trick is in the double breading, which seals the cheese for frying. Served with a cool sauce and fresh, crisp greens, these at once crunchy and creamy slices of buffalo mozzarella make for a superb summer meal.
Make the sauce first. Grill the pepper, turning it often until it starts to char evenly on all sides and is so soft it ‘collapses’. When cool enough to handle, peel away the skin, cut open the pepper and clean out the seeds and any pulp. Cut the flesh into smaller pieces and place in a food processor along with the oil, optional chilli pepper, garlic, basil, salt and cream. Process until smooth. Taste and correct for salt. Now place in the fridge to thicken while you prep the cheese. Remember to remove the sauce about 5 minutes before serving and give it a good stir. Tips: You can make the sauce in advance to save time. It keeps in the fridge for a few days. If you want a thicker sauce, skip the olive oil.
Prep the mozzarella. Set out one small plate for flour another for the breadcrumbs. Beat the eggs in a shallow bowl. Drain the mozzarella and slice each ball in half. Gently pat both sides of the slices dry with a paper towel. Now dredge each piece in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs, making sure to cover the cheese entirely, and set aside. When you've finished, repeat the steps: flour, egg, breadcrumbs. This is a messy process but needed to create a seal as well as to obtain a nice crunchy outer shell.
Arrange the mixed greens now so they are ready to go. You can serve all the cheese on one platter with the salad, or as individually plated servings.
Heat the oil. You want at least an inch of cooking oil, so use a small-in-diameter pan and fry the cheese in batches if necessary. Test the oil to make sure it's frying-ready before adding the cheese. Gently slide the slices in the oil. Keep an eye on them. You want to flip them only one time, so be patient. They are ready to flip after about 3 to 5 minutes, or when the face down side has turned golden brown and firm. Now gently turn them and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes. Keep in mind that flipping more than once could weaken the outer batter, and the melting cheese will start to spill out into the oil. Handle them as little and as delicately as possible.
When golden and crunchy on all sides, transfer the cheese to paper to drain off some oil and lightly salt them. Let them cool slightly, but be sure to serve them warm-hot. You can slice them in half (as pictured). Drizzle the pepper cream sauce directly over the cheese or serve separately in small bowls, and garnish with a bit more fresh basil, if you like.