One of Rome’s best festive culinary traditions takes place on the evening of the Vigilia di Natale, or Christmas Eve.
By Kate Zagorski
Families across the city gather together for dinner with most households sticking to the Catholic tradition of a meat-free dinner by serving light, fish-based dishes before a decadent feast the next day. To kick-off the Christmas Eve meal it is common to serve a fritto misto, a mixture of vegetables dipped in a light batter, deep-fried until golden and sprinkled with salt.
Although many delis and tavole calde will sell ready-fried fritti to be taken home and warmed up, there is no doubt that they taste better fresh out of the pan. The recipe is simple, the batter is simply flour combined with beer (or sparkling water) to keep the coating light and airy while the mixture of vegetables is up to you, as long as they are cut into similar sizes. Courgette, aubergine, peppers and carrot can be cut into batons, Romanesco broccoli and cauliflower can be separated into small florets and artichokes should be cleaned and quartered. For a truly Roman touch try also slices of apple and pear for a sweet/savoury touch.
To ensure a crisp, crunchy coating keep the batter as cold as possible. Adding a few ice cubes to the mixture will keep it cold while frying the batches of vegetables.
Makes about 50 pieces
Courgette, aubergine, carrot, broccoli romanesco, cauliflower, artichokes, potato, apple, pear, cut into pieces
For the batter:
250g 00 flour
250ml ice-cold lager (or sparkling water)
Extra virgin olive oil
2 litres vegetable oil, for frying
Prepare the vegetables and put to one side.
Put the vegetable oil into a large saucepan and bring to a temperature of about 170°C.
Place the flour in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Pour in the liquid gradually while whisking continuously to eliminate any lumps. The batter should become thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. When the mixture is ready, and you are ready to start frying, add three or four ice cubes into the bowl and stir occasionally to keep it cool.
Test that the oil is hot enough by dropping a little batter into the pan; it should bubble and start to turn golden.
Dip the pieces of vegetable one at a time into the batter and then straight into the oil and fry in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Cook for approximately five-six minutes until the batter turns light golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
Sprinkle with salt before serving hot.
Kate Zagorski has lived in Italy since 2000. Married to a food-obsessed Roman chef, she leads food tours and also works as a freelance food and travel writer.