1. When did you begin your culinary career?
I was born in Milan, so food and cooking have always been a large part of my life. When I graduated from college I went into the restaurant business with a friend of mine as the founding chef and partner at Pasta da Pulcinella, a casual fast food pasta concept. Today, I have four restaurants in the Atlanta area: Fritti (Italian pizzeria), Sotto Sotto (authentic Italian trattoria), Cuerno (Spanish tapas) and Beleza (healthy tropical small plates).
2. With a restaurant named Fritti, when did you start experimenting with frying techniques?
Frying is a basic cooking technique which every culture incorporates into their cuisine, some more than others. Good fried food really comes down to two things: batter and oil temperature – and that’s it. Once you’ve got those two things down, you’ve got the perfect fried item, but those two things can be pretty complicated to get right sometimes.
As you can imagine, I played around with various batters, but have found the sweet spot with my recipe for the Funghi Fritti. I coat a mixture of white button, crimini, portabella and shiitake mushrooms with a rice flour batter that combines the properties of a traditional Italian pastella with a Japanese tempura. Although we serve a variety of fried appetizers… fried Robiola goat cheese, fried calamari, fried pizzas, fried rice balls [arancini], the Funghi Fritti is by far our most popular appetizer.
3. What role do mushrooms play on your menu?
Mushrooms are a very important ingredient within Italian cuisine and can be part of almost any dish. But for me, I prefer to feature mushrooms as the center piece of a dish.
4. What is your favorite mushroom dish?
The Risotto al Funghi at one of my other restaurants, Sotto Sotto. It has carnaroli rice, a variety of exotic mushrooms and Reggiano cheese. Simple but delicious!
Chef Riccardo’s Funghi Fritti
- 12 pounds assorted mushrooms (such as white, crimini, portobello, shiitake)
- 4 1/2 cups water
- 1 1/2 cups white wine
- 6 cups rice flour
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh rosemary
- Truffle oil, as needed
- Canola oil, as needed
- Salt, to taste Pepper, to taste
- Stem and cut the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces.
- In a large bowl, add the water and wine, then slowly whisk in the rice flour until the batter is the consistency of a thick gravy.
- Add the rosemary and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the mushrooms and toss until the mushrooms are lightly and evenly coated.
- For each serving to order: Fry 8 ounces of the mushrooms at 350 degrees F, using a metal spoon to keep them from clumping, 3 to 4 minutes, or until the batter is crisp.
- Drain the mushrooms on a paper towel, then drizzle very lightly with truffle oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.