In another post ("What Makes for a Real Italian Place?") I alluded to Zarrelli's, a wonderful restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina that, although no longer in operation, remains firmly entrenched in my food memory. I also mentioned my wife's particular favorite dish there was Mozarella in Carrozza.
Mozzarella in Carrozza is basically an Italian version of a grilled cheese sandwich, except it's fried rather than grilled. A staple in Campania, in carrozza literally means "in a carriage," the bread serving as a carriage for the cheese.
Zarrelli's had a unique spin on this classic concoction that made it even more delicious. They added tomato sauce. This is very much an Italian-American twist, but it's a good one. I never thought to try and bribe Neal for his recipe, but I think I have come up with a fair recreation. My wife thinks so, too, so I must be on the right track.
For this recipe to really be as good as it should be, you'll want to use fresh mozzarella. Okay, so you don't have to import mozzarella di bufala from Campania. It's actually not that hard to make your own fresh mozzarella, but you can get good stuff at the grocery store. Just avoid packaged shredded mozzarella and the hard block stuff. Go for the little balls of fresh mozzarella in the specialty cheese section.
You can make mozzarella in carrozza with gummy, store bought white sandwich bread - but don't. A denser white bread, like a country white, will yield better results. I use rustic Italian bread when I can.
Always, always use good olive oil. Using the cheapest stuff you can find because good olive oil is expensive will usually result in your food tasting like you used the cheapest stuff you could find because good olive oil is expensive.
Finally, the sauce. I prefer a nice salsa di pomodoro fresco, which I make myself using San Marzano tomatoes. But nobody's ever accused me of being reasonable or realistic. Buy some marinara sauce in a jar, but, again, buy the good stuff. Shy away from cheap store brands and the stuff that comes in a can for 99 cents a quart.
Va bene, iniziamo a cucinare! (Okay, let's start cooking!)
1 loaf country white bread or rustic Italian bread, sliced
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons milk, divided
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
2 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 1/2 cups marinara sauce
1 tablespoon dried basil
Blend of olive oil and canola oil, for frying
On a slice of bread, place a slice of mozzarella, topped with a light sprinkle of basil. Cover with another slice of bread. Remove the crust and cut the sandwiches into four-inch squares.
Put 1 cup of milk in a shallow bowl and spread the bread crumbs in a shallow dish or plate. Dip both sides of each sandwich in milk, pressing the edges lightly to seal the sandwiches. Coat both sides of each sandwich with bread crumbs. Place on a wax paper lined baking sheet and transfer to the refrigerator. Chill for about 30 minutes.
Whisk eggs in a shallow bowl, then whisk in salt, pepper, and remaining 3 tbsp of milk.
Preheat oven to 400°
Heat about 1/2 inch of blended oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium high heat. Remove the sandwiches from the refrigerator and, as the oil comes to temperature, dip each sandwich in the egg mixture, allowing the excess to drip off. Fry in batches of 3 or 4, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, 5 or 6 minutes per batch. Drain sandwiches on paper towels.
Pour about half of the marinara sauce in a glass baking dish and spread to coat the bottom of the dish to a depth of about 1/4 inch. Sprinkle in a little basil and arrange the sandwiches in the dish. Coat the sandwiches with the rest of the marinara and top each sandwich with a slice of mozzarella. Place the baking dish in the preheated oven and bake until the cheese on top of the sandwiches melts, about 5 or 6 minutes.
Yields 12 to 16