When I first arrived in Rome a friend recommended a Jewish restaurant named Piperno a Monte Cenci, located in the old ghetto. It became (and still is, thirty years later) my favorite restaurant in Rome. In the summer you can sit outside in a delightful courtyard and eat one of Piperno’s specialties, the fabulously elaborate fritto misto. Their classic recipe has brains, sweetbreads, and assorted vegetables, plus deep-fried bocconcini mozzarella.
Because it is one of my favorite dishes, I have tried fritto misto at many other restaurants in Italy. (I have also ordered it in Italian restaurants in America, often with disastrous results.) In addition to the usual sweetbreads, brains, vegetables, and rice croquettes, I’ve been served chicken croquettes, baby veal chops, baby lamb chops, and even calves liver. We have tried and tried to sell this at the restaurant with innards, but to no avail. (The orders come in “fritto misto, hold the sweetbreads” or “hold the liver.” Heaven forbid we should offer brains!) I still think that sweetbreads are the perfect touch and have included instructions on how to prepare them. Otherwise, we have made only a few minor changes in the magic Piperno formula. Because we cannot get the perfect little balls of fresh mozzarella, we stuff zucchini blossoms with fresh mozzarella and fresh marjoram. If zucchini blossoms are not available, we stuff cubes of mozzarella into the rice croquettes. You may leave out the meat entirely and serve only vegetables. You will see that the deep-fry coating is not a batter, rather just an egg wash with a dusting of seasoned flour.