Frienno e Magnanno
Region: Italy, Campania-Naples
Category: Antipasto, Meze, Tapas, and Hors d'Oeuvres
Difficulty: Easy but special equipment needed and long cooking and/or non-working time
Life was always hard in Naples, but it was in large part Spanish rule that created the poverty still evident today. In 1585, large-scale exports of grain from Naples to Spain had caused domestic famine. Neapolitans were forced to eat bread di castagne e legumi (made with chestnuts and pulses). One of the merchants hoarding grain, Giovanni Vicenzo Storaci, was challenged by an angry crowd who said they would not eat such bread. He unwisely replied mangiate pietre (eat stones); the crowd murdered him and dragged his mutilated body around the city.
The Neapolitans are passionate about food. The foods might be simple, but are evocative and vibrant, as in this frienno e magnanno , which means "fry and eat" in Neapolitan dialect and is typically served for special occasions. The fry usually consists of several different ingredients deep-fried in a combination of olive oil and 'nzugna, unadulterated freshly rendered pork lard. I like a mixed fry to consist of small fish such as smelts, sardines, anchovies, or other small fish, called cecenielli in Neapolitan dialect. You can often find these small fish sold seasonally at ethnic fish stores, especially those catering to a Greek, Italian, or international clientele. I have also had luck finding them in the freezer section of my supermarket occasionally, usually imported from Peru.
But you don't have to fry fish--try mixed offal, such as veal liver, sweetbreads, and brain, all breaded and fried. You can also try cubed pieces of breaded mozzarella, or make a bread crumb-coated fritter of hard-boiled egg yolks dipped into a very thick Béchamel sauce and fried whole; potato-and-ricotta croquettes, rice croquettes, breaded cauliflower florets, artichoke hearts, zucchini or batter-coated zucchini flowers, or fried Béchamel croquettes (extremely thick white sauce dropped in hot oil).
In this recipe I use three different foods, but you can easily use more if you have the time, patience, and energy to prepare the suggestions above.
[photo: Clifford A. Wright]
Yield: Makes 4 servings
Preparation Time: 1:30 hours
1. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan covered with cold water. Bring to a gentle boil, 20 to 25 minutes, and cook until the potatoes are easily pierced by the tip of a skewer, about another 20 minutes. Drain, peel, and push through a food mill. Push the ricotta through the mill, too. Stir in 1 beaten egg and season with salt. Form the mixture into walnut-size balls and dredge in the flour, tapping off any excess, then dip into a bowl containing the other beaten egg. Dredge evenly in the bread crumbs and set aside in the refrigerator while you continue working.
2. Preheat the frying oil in a deep-fryer or an 8-inch saucepan fitted with a basket insert to 360 degrees F.
3. Deep-fry the small fish in batches until golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels, salt, and keep warm in the oven. Deep-fry the squid until golden and crispy, about 4 minutes. Drain, salt, and keep warm in the oven. Deep-fry the potato-ricotta croquettes in batches until golden brown, about 3 to 4 1/2 minutes (depending on the size). Drain, salt, and serve with the remaining food and some wedges of lemon. Let the frying oil cool completely, strain, and save for a future use.