Carolyn and I are suckers for cookbooks and cooking magazines (and cooking shows and cooking websites). Frankly, we have way too many, but we never stop, we can’t help it. We may be Food Porn Addicts. We probably need to seek treatment. But, as it is, we keep buying.
When we buy a cookbook, unless it is a familiar author, we are making a leap of faith. You would be surprised how many bad, and we mean bad, cookbooks are out there. But with the magazines, we start to see some predictable patterns. We know that Cook’s Illustrated will give some good tips but often adds useless steps to make their recipe seem “new and improved”, or just because they seem to all have OCD (and need to keep selling cookbooks with the same recipes rehashed ;-) ). Saveur recipes are good, but can be inconsistent and need to be thoroughly reviewed before we try them. And our friends at Sunset magazine have good, solid recipes but the dishes are almost always under-seasoned, at least to our tastes.
And this leads us to today’s recipe for Rapini Fritto Misto. The recipe is adapted from a Sunset recipe, and guess what? We added more seasoning. But it is a fun, tasty dish and since it involves frying, everyone likes it. Rapini, also known as Broccoli Rabe, is a relative of broccoli. The rapini is basically a thinner, leafier version of broccoli, with smaller “florets”. We think rapini is a bit more flavorful and easier to cook than regular broccoli and buy it at the farmers market when we can- normally fall and spring. Usually we sauté the rapini with a little bacon or pancetta, garlic, red chile flake, salt and a few splashes of wine. But we wanted to try something new, and deep-frying is always a popular way to make almost anything.
So let’s talk a bit about deep-frying, there are many reasons some cooks prefer to not deep fry at home. It can be messy. It does involve some danger of burns and fire. You need to use some specific tools. If done improperly the food will taste bad and be greasy. And, honestly, we do not deep fry all that often. But it is fun, and deep-frying is a technique that can be very useful for the home cook. (Just wait until we give you Carolyn’s recipe for home-made jelly doughnuts, yum).
So if you do want to deep fry, here are some basics that will help:
- The key to good frying is maintaining the desired temperature with the least variation. Hot oil gets you crispy, brown and not-too-greasy food. Cooking in lower-than-desired temperature oil gets you soggy, greasy food. Keep the oil hot.
- Cook in small batches to keep a steady temperature. Take your time!
- Use the oil suggested in the recipe. Different oils have different “smoke points” and may not be a fit for frying at high temperature. If a recipe does not specify an oil, peanut and refined canola oil are good default choices with high smoke points.
- You need a medium-to-large, heavy, lidded, straight-sided pot with plenty of extra room. You must have a lid- it is the first way to put out a grease fire. Straight-sided pots lower risk of splashing.
- You need a thermometer to monitor and maintain the temperature of the oil. We use a digital thermometer, but there are traditional clip-on varieties as well.
- It is best to use long tongs or a “spider” as tools to manage the food while deep-frying, keep your hands well-clear of the hot oil.
- If you have kids, it is best to keep them well away from the pot. Most kids think deep-frying is cool (and it is) but hot oil burns and god forbid it spills, keep the kids away.
Now that the safety lecture is over, let’s get back to making the fritto misto. The first step is to wash and dry some rapini and remove and tough parts of the stem. At this stage you can also thinly slice a large lemon. (You may want to get a little of the zest from the lemon for a tasty garnish).
The next step is to start the batter. The base is a simple combination of flour, cornstarch, salt and spices. We use cayenne, garlic powder, black pepper and a touch of cumin (we like cumin). Simply combine these ingredients with cold water and a bit of olive oil, then chill the batter for an hour in the fridge. Don’t skip this step, cold batter makes for a light, crispy fry.
While the batter is chilling, you can get your frying station set up. You will need enough oil to fill up the pot to about 2 inches, depending on the size of the pot this can be 4-8 cups. Make sure to have plenty of room in the pan, as the oil expands when you are frying. Start heating the oil at medium-high heat to bring it to temperature. Set up a plate lined with a paper towel or a cooling rack for cooling / draining the fritto misto.
When the base for the batter is chilled, and just before you are ready to fry, whip some egg whites into soft peaks and then gently fold them into the batter. There are different ways to add the magical “puff” to deep fry batters and the egg whites are one of the common methods. (We will show others in later deep-fry recipes).
You are now ready to fry. First, be sure the oil is at the right temperature, then simply dip a few pieces of the rapini into the batter, shake of any excess and gently lower the rapini into the oil. Do not crowd the pot and check the temperature of the oil and adjust as needed. When the rapini are golden brown, about 3-5 minutes, remove them to a rack or plate lined with paper towels. Repeat with remaining rapini until done. Season the rapini with salt when still hot- the salt sticks better.
At the end, repeat the same steps with the sliced lemon. Deep fried lemon slices are very tasty, but as the lemons have a lot of moisture, they will splatter a bit when cooking- so be warned and keep clear.
Finally, garnish the rapini and lemons with a touch of lemon zest and you are ready to serve. We served the fritto misto as a side dish with dinner, but it would also be a good appetizer or even a fun (if somewhat labor-intensive) snack. The deep-frying adds a fun crunch to the rapini and seems to sweeten the flavor. The lemons add a nice sour/bitter touch. While we would not deep fry veggies every day, making a fritto misto is a treat and worth trying at home.
(Adapted from Sunset Magazine)
Notes Before You Start:
- See article for notes on deep-frying tools and techniques.
- You can use this basic recipe for other spring veggies like asparagus.
What You Get: A new way to enjoy vegetables. Deep fried food- everyone likes deep-fried food.
What You Need: You do need some tools to fry well- see article above on required gear.
How Long? Expect about 90 minutes of time to make this dish, including the time to chill the batter. About 30 minutes of active time, mostly frying the rapini and lemons.
(Serves 6-8 as a side dish or snack)
- 1 cup of all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup of cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- About 6 cups of vegetable oil for deep-frying (we use refined canola oil)
- 3 egg whites, at room temperature
- 8 oz. rapini, trimmed of any tough ends
- 1 large lemon thinly sliced (8-10 slices)
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper for seasoning
- Zest of 1 lemon (optional)
- In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch and spices. In another bowl or measuring cup mix 1 and 1/2 cups of very cold water and the olive oil. Slowly add the oil and water to the dry ingredients and gently whisk until smooth. Cover the batter and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.
- Add the oil into a large pot. Using medium-high heat bring the oil to 375 degrees. Use a thermometer (clip-on or digital) to track temperature, adjust heat as necessary.
- When the batter is chilled and you are ready to fry, prepare the egg whites. In a separate medium bowl, add the egg whites and using an electric mixer whip the eggs until soft peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter. Do not overmix.
- When ready to fry, dip 1 or 2 pieces of the rapini into the batter, shake off any excess and gently lower the rapini into the oil. Fry the rapini, turning once, unto golden brown, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer the rapini to a rack or plate lined with paper towels. Repeat with rapini and then dip and fry the lemons using the same technique.
- Season the fritto misto with salt and pepper while still hot. Sprinkle with lemon zest as a garnish, if you like. Serve.