The app called Carrozza at East Village pizzeria Nicoletta is Dish #8 in our countdown.
Welcome to 100 Dishes to Eat Now, the tasty countdown leading up to our “Best of 2012” issue. Tune in each day (weekends too!) for a new dish from the Fork in the Road team.
[See More 100 Dishes: Mozzarella in Carrozza, Italian or Italian-American? | Escarole and Kale Salad at Back Forty West]
A popular dish at old-guard Italian-American restaurants in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens is mozzarella in carrozza, which means “mozzarella in a carriage.” It consists of two pieces of bread with cheese in between, which is dipped in batter and then deep fried, making one of the richest toasted cheese sandwiches the world has ever seen.
Sometimes, the menus attribute the dish to Rome, and it does have something of a big-city sophistication. Other places, the dish is called spedieni a la Romana, and features the same fried sandwich engulfed in either tomato sauce, or an oil-and-anchovy mixture. In books like John Mariani’s The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink and Waverly Root’s The Food of Italy, you’ll find a similar dish credited to Campania, Naples, Abruzzi, and even Milan.
To me, the most intriguing part is its resemblance to an American toasted cheese sandwich. There are historically nothing like sandwiches in Italy, though in modern times panini are ubiquitous, even though the bread used is universally recognized as not Italian. So putting cheese between two slices of bread seems, on its face, to be an American (or English) phenomenon, even though the dish has been attributed to Italy. Did it originate in Italy or return to Italy via visiting Italian-Americans? To answer that question, we’d have to find out when the dish was first made in Italy, and that type of info is scarce. Anyone have an idea?
The version at Nicoletta takes cheese, bread-crumbs it, and fries it something like Greek saganaki. Root describes a similar presentation as mozzarella Milanese, and says it was inspired by Neapolitan mozzarella in carrozza. Wherever chef Michael White got the idea to make it this way (and the confetti sauce is an inspiration on his part), the dish is supremely delicious.
160 Second Avenue
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 9, 2012