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Mozzarella Tarantella for “La Nozze di Foglie di Salvia”

September 14, 2009
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A cheese dance for a wedding? La Nozze di Foglie di Salvia or The Marriage of Sage Leaves? Has Charles gone nuts again? Yes!  I’m nuts for Italian food, Italian cheese, Italian opera, Italian bread and Italian wine. Anywhere there’s an abundant natural resource of food, chances are you’ll find Italians and Americans of Italian descent enjoying the local bounty. Lucky Oregon! We’re blessed with Italian food almost everywhere.

One of Oregon’s greatest Italian-American treasures is Nick’s Italian Cafe in McMinnville in the heart of pinot noir country. Some time in 2004, Saveur Magazine published a wonderful article on Nick Peirano, chef/owner of Nick’s Italian Cafe along with some of his recipes. On the side bar next to the article, you will find links to recipes such as Dungeness Crab and Pine Nut Lasagne. Enjoy!

I love playing with words as much as I love playing with food. While my mind was searching for my inspiration muse for a mozzarella and sage grilled cheese sandwich, the word “mozzarella” kept dancing through my head. Mozzarella is a fun word to say and repeat rapidly — mozzarella, mozzarella, mozzarella! Before long a I was singing it to a melody that came to me and I realized it was a tarantella, a very rapid Italian dance Usually in a 6/8 meter. Pretty soon my  little song became “mozzarella tarantella, mozzarella tarantella, etc.” Aren’t unbridled minds interesting? It allows your inner two year old to emerge and that can be a dangerous thing.

Well, enough of this nonsensical mind play – I’ll leave you with an entertaining example of one of the most famous tarantellas at the end of this post.

My “Sage and Mozzarella Sandwich” began to take shape quite a few years ago. I was thumbing through The Fine Art of Italian Cooking by Giuliano Bugialli.  I became fascinated with a recipe titled, Foglie di Salvia Ripieno or “little sage sandwiches.” I imagined Catherine de’ Medici serving these little packages at one of her repasts in France.  And by the way, it was her personal chefs that inspired the beginnings of French cuisine as we know it now.

My attempt to recreate this recipe was one of my biggest failures in the kitchen. The recipe was simple enough; fresh sage leaves sandwiched between small slices of mozzarella, coated in a breading of egg yolk and beaten egg whites then deep fried. What I ended up with was empty crispy breading with burnt sage and melted mozzarella loose in the bottom of the fryer. Merda!

I was  really looking forward to enjoying the taste of warm and soft mozzarella voluptuously coaxing out the pungent flavor of the fresh sage leaves to create a whole new flavor. Not to be so on to Plan B.

The fact that the word ‘sandwich’ from the recipe practically slapped me in the face wasn’t enough get me there immediately. It would be some time before my little sandwich light bulb lit up and I thought – Grilled Cheese Sandwich!

I give you:

Mozzarella and Sage Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Mozza and Sage Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Mozzarella and Sage Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Since these are sandwiches you will need to assume some  responsibility for the amount of your ingredients. Don’t worry if you make too many, they store and warm up nicely. This time of year is perfect because vine ripened tomatoes are at their best. These are very garlicky.

  1. Fresh mozzarella
  2. Fresh sage leaves, enough to cover a single layer on each of your sandwiches – you can use the leaves whole or mince using a chiffonade method. When I use whole leaves, I remove the large inner vein.
  3. The best vine ripened tomato you can lay your hands on
  4. Red onion, thinly sliced
  5. Good country style bread – I like to use an olive bread
  6. Extra virgin olive oil
  7. Fresh garlic to taste
  8. Mayonnaise

Once you establish how many sandwiches you will make, judging the rest of the ingredients is fairly easy. Most of our meals at home are for three; one who eats like a bird and two who eat for a whole flock of birds. We nearly always have leftovers. So we’re going to use 6 or 8 slices of bread.

  • Prepare the garlic mayonnaise by pounding two cloves of peeled garlic, with the green center removed if it has one, in a mortar and pestle with a few grains of Kosher salt. When it reaches a paste consistency, begin moving your pestle in a circular motion while adding the olive oil in a tiny drizzle. When you think you have just the right amount, add the mayonnaise, and mix all together with the pestle. For my 3 – 4 sandwiches I will need at least 1/2 cup. If you think you didn’t make enough mayonnaise, you should be able to tell after you cover the first two or three slices. If you need more, just add more mayonnaise – the garlic flavor will still be obvious.
  • Now you have a choice with how to deal with the fresh mozzarella. 1. You can slice it thinly or, 2. you can grate it. I have found grating fresh mozzarella a major challenge. Lately I have been placing the whole ball in my potato ricer with the large holes and pressing into little cylinders of cheese. Non-conventional but it works for me — especially for topping pizza.
  • Slice you bread to the thickness you like. (I like to slice slightly on the diagonal too.) Have your tomatoes and onion sliced too.
  • Spread some of the garlic mayonnaise on each slice of bread.
  • Spread a small amount of the grated cheese or the thin slices over the bread covering it fully.
  • Generously sprinkle the sage or the whole leaves covering the cheese to your liking.
  • Cover the sage with the same amount of cheese, cover that with the tomato slices and finishing with the red onion to your taste.
  • Cover each with the remaining slices of bread.
  • Lightly spray or brush each sandwich with olive oil.
  • Have a pan ready and heated for grilling. You may want to use a non-stick pan because of the melting cheese oozing out slightly. When grilling it this way, you may want to cover it after turning the sandwiches to help the cheese melt. Place sandwiches on the pan leaving enough room to turn over using two spatulas, the second one to help you hold it together.
  • Alternatively, you can make these effortlessly using a panini press which I did for this post.*
  • Cut each sandwich in half and serve.

I served this with an Asian Pear Slaw from Epicurious.com and a wonderful King Estate 2007 Oregon Pinot Gris.

*This was my first time using a panini press and now I’m a huge fan. My good friend Kathy Thompson not only loaned me her fabulous Breville Panini Press but plied me with dynamite heirloom tomatoes from her garden. Thanks Kathy.

And now the entertainment I promised earlier, Rossini’s La Danza as performed by the late, great Luciano Pavarotti accompanied by James Levine. Who would want to follow such an act? Ciao e buon appetito!

— Charles Price

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Victoria Linton permalink
    September 20, 2009 5:00 pm

    I saw this recipe today and went out to buy the ingredients and a grill just to make it. Since I love caprese salad I expected it to be good, but it better than good, it was wonderful! The flavors worked perfect together, and the crunchiness of the bread along with the melted cheese filling was very satisfying.

  2. October 7, 2009 2:02 pm

    Note to self: don’t look at delicious sandwiches when you’re starving. I was living in Italy last year and this reminds me of one of the delicious paninis I had when I was there. Sage is one of my favorite herbs, and I am sure it complements this perfectly.

    • charlesprice permalink*
      October 7, 2009 6:09 pm

      Frenchie – Thanks for taking the time to visit and leaving a comment. I visited your blog and subscribed. Very nice work. Charles

  3. October 28, 2009 12:14 pm

    VRy interesting to read it 😛 😀

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