For a long time, one of my favourite food blogs has been Keep Calm and Fanny On!, in which we are introduced the to the wonderful 1970s world of the British TV cook, Fanny Cradock. For those of you that don’t know her, Fanny was like a terrifying caricature of Julia Child, who corralled the British public to share her affection for all things French, France being ‘the acknowledged Centre of the Gastronomic World’ (Cradock 1973: 6). In fact, this was so true that ‘In our almost endless travels we have again and again come upon some strange dish whose name is totally unfamiliar to us, only to discover that it is a French dish … under another name.’ (Cradock 1973: 6).
In the early 1970s, the British Government and the BBC enlisted the formidable Fanny to promote the idea of European food, in order to whip up public enthusiasm for their entry into the EU, or EEC, or Common Market as it was then known. Unfortunately, she only got round to publishing two volumes. The first, of course, dealt with France. The second, with Italy. Perhaps it was Fanny’s patronising style in the Italian volume, most of which consists of comparing their cuisine (unfavourably) with French that decided them not to risk letting her loose on Spanish, let alone German food. However, I’d love to see what she would have made of those.
Knowing I was a fan, a friend managed to track down a volume of Fanny Cradock’s Common Market Cookery: Italy for me for Christmas, and I spent hours in open-mouthed indignation at remarks such as, ‘The Italians, whose range has always run from A to B in comparison with France’s A to Zee …’ (Cradock 1974: 9). (I have always found the regionality of Italian food much more varied than the French). It’s also full of tasty tips on how to survive Italian food if you are unfortunate enough to be travelling there. ‘Experienced travellers always request large cups and additional jugs of boiling water to be served with the coffee.’ which she describes as ‘tiny cups of black treacle’. (Cradock 1974: 13).
I was then lucky enough to be given a copy of the French volume by the author of Keep Calm and Fanny On!, in which France cannot be more perfect and all their idiosyncrasies seen as virtues. In France, she devotes three pages to ‘The French At Table’ explaining their oh-so-superior way of eating. ‘The Italians at Table’ is a short paragraph criticizing their unspeakably uncouth breakfast habits.
The recipe collection itself is a very interesting insight into what was thought to be Italian cuisine in 1970s Britain. Indeed, it reads like the menu in the Italian restaurants I was used to frequenting with my parents in 1970s and 1980s Britain. However, it misses much of the range of the authentic Italian cooking I am trying to expose readers of this blog to.
For lunch, today, I thought I’d make Fanny’s take on a classic snack favourite Mozzarella in Carrozza. This literally means Mozzarella in a carriage, and consists of a deep fried mozzarella sandwich, the description of which doesn’t do justice to the dish. I remember eating these with my father at the Rosticceria Gislon, one of Venice’s hidden gems and famous for this dish. The Rosticceria is still there and the sandwiches are still incredible.
Fanny advises you to cut the bread into small strips of 3″ x 2 ” x 1/8 ” (precisely). If you can’t get mozzarella—imagine a Britain today where you couldn’t—she advises using Bel Paese. This is a completely different kind of cheese, cream as opposed to the hard kind of mozzarella usually used. To round it off, she exposes the dish as the ‘Italian version of the French Croque M’sieu.’ (Cradock 1974: 76). The method consists of making small sandwiches by buttering the bread fingers and then putting ‘thin matching sized strips’ (Cradock 1974: 76) in between. These are then dipped in beaten egg and then fried ‘briskly’ until browned.
Knowing what a mess it can be if the mozzarella escapes while frying, I would advise you to cut slightly smaller strips of mozzarella and then pinch the edges of the sandwiches before deep frying.
I am not quite sure why Fanny stipulates these sizes as they are slightly smaller than the ones that you buy here in Italy nowadays. Perhaps it’s because a little goes a long way with them. You wouldn’t want to eat more than one, but with Fanny’s sizes you could do two.
Cradock, Fanny. (1973) Fanny Cradock’s Common Market Cookery: France.London: BBC.
Cradock, Fanny. (1974) Fanny Cradock’s Common Market Cookery: Italy.London: BBC.