Fritto Misto with Sicilian Pesto Aioli

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Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 6

A favorite in Italy, fritto misto (mixed fry) is an assortment of bite-size pieces of vegetables, seafood or meat that are battered and deep-fried. These crispy morsels make an inviting appetizer, especially when paired with a garlickly aioli for dipping. In this Sicilian version of fritto misto, we dress up the aioli with a Sicilian pesto, the southern cousin of the better-known pesto Genovese pesto, which contains red pepper flakes and tomatoes in addition to the usual basil, olive oil and pine nuts. Fry the ingredients in small batches for a crisp, light result.

Ingredients:

For the Sicilian pesto aioli:

  • 1/4 cup (1 1/4 oz./35 g) drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh basil
  • 2 Tbs. pine nuts
  • 1 Tbs. capers
  • 1/4 cup (1 oz./30 g) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) aioli or mayonnaise (store-bought or homemade)

  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 cup (4 3/4 oz./150 g) rice flour
  • 1 cup (5 oz./155 g) all-purpose flour
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups (16 fl. oz./500 ml) club soda
  • 1 acorn squash, thinly sliced
  • 1 leek, white and light green portions, cut into 1/4-inch (6-mm) rounds and rinsed well
  • 1/2 lb. (250 g) maitake mushrooms, broken apart
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and cut into 1/4-inch (6-mm) slices
  • Lemon wedges for serving

Directions:

To make the pesto aioli, in a food processor, combine the sun-dried tomatoes, basil, pine nuts, capers, Parmesan, garlic and red pepper flakes and process until a coarse puree forms. With the machine running, slowly stream in the olive oil and process until incorporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the aioli. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Fill a large heavy saucepan two-thirds full with vegetable oil and heat over medium heat to 350°F (180°C) on a deep-frying thermometer. Adjust the heat as needed while frying to maintain the temperature. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.

In a large bowl, whisk together the rice flour, all-purpose flour and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Add the club soda and stir until smooth. Working in batches, toss the squash, leek, mushrooms and fennel in the batter to coat, letting the excess drip off. Working in batches, carefully drop the vegetables into the hot oil and fry until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to the prepared baking sheet and season with salt. Repeat with the remaining vegetables. Serve immediately with the pesto aioli and lemon wedges alongside. Serves 6.

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