EXPLORE THE AMALFI COAST WITH CHEF MARIO BATALI
Whenever Chef Mario Batali is asked which is his favorite part of Italy to travel and dine in, he would often hem and haw and wax poetic about the vast variety of flavors, wines, people, art and rich traditions throughout the entire Italian peninsula. Wondering how could he really choose from such an incredible variety of magnificent options? But if it ever comes right down to it, he would sheepishly admit one place... the Amalfi coast.
Along the central coast of Campania, south of Napoli about an hour in a quick car, lies one of the most beautiful stretches of coast ever seen. The Amalfitana is the place where "eat well and live long" makes more than intuitive sense. Driving from Sorrento all the way down to Salerno there lie a plethora of exquisite towns and small cities, each wrapped around a little inlet or a natural port, each with its own flavor, and each worth a visit. And the dining experience is truly heaven on the Amalfi coast, especially places without a wine list and few foreigners in the dining room.
It is along the Amalfi coast where one can find buffalo mozzarella, which is produced almost exclusively in Campania and Sicily, and has been protected under DOP status since June 1996.
Buffalo mozzarella is a snowy-white, delicate fresh cheese with a slightly fibrous consistency resulting from the multitudinous layers from which it is comprised. Made entirely of whole buffalo milk, it is inoculated with a starter culture of the previous day's whey. After about 30 minutes the milk begins to coagulate and the cheesemaker breaks the curd into small pieces to ripen for 5 hours, after which time the curd is transferred to a boiling vat for stretching. It is sold either in baseball-sized balls, or in smaller balls called bocconcini.
Some caseficie, or dairies, offer scamorza, a smoked version of buffalo mozzarella. No matter what form it takes, mozzarella di bufala has a slightly sour tang that is offset by a creamy, milky bite. It is an essential part of Naples' wood-fired pizze, and is often served on its own, in a simple salad or perhaps accompanied by a slice of grilled bread.
Makes 4 Servings | Region: Campania - Amalfi Coast | Book: Holiday Food (Clarkson Potter 2000)
• 2 pounds fresh buffalo mozzarella, cut into 4 (3 by 4-inch) slices
• 8 slices American-style sandwich bread, crusts removed
• 4 eggs
• 1 cup milk
• 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 tablespoon plus 3 tablespoons sweet butter
Divide the 4 pieces of mozzarella on 4 slices of bread. Cover with the 4 remaining slices of bread to form sandwiches. Cut the bread away to leave a 1/4-inch border around the perimeter of the cheese and set aside.
In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk the eggs and add the milk, thyme leaves and salt and mix until well blended. Dip the sandwiches into the egg mixture one by one to coat, and set aside.
In a 12 to 14-inch non-stick sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil until smoking. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and cook until the sizzling subsides. Place 2 sandwiches in the pan and cook until golden brown on the first side. Flip each sandwich and cook on the other side. Remove sandwiches and set aside. Repeat the process with the remaining oil, butter and sandwiches. Serve immediately.
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