prep time: 20 minutes (plus at least 2 hours for chilling)
cook time: 35 to 40 minutes
yield: 18 mozzarella sticks
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, grated
2 tablespoons tomato past
1 (14.5-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
2 teaspoons sugar
½ cup heavy cream
Leaves from 2 sprigs of basil
4 large eggs
1 to 1½ cups panko breadcrumbs
1 cup finely grated
2 tablespoons dried oregano
18 mozzarella string cheese sticks
1 quart (4 cups) canola oil, for frying
1 to 2 tablespoons garlic powder
1. MAKE THE SAUCE: In a large skillet, warm the olive oil and garlic over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons water. Simmer until the water cooks out and the garlic becomes tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste with 2 more tablespoons water and cook to fry the paste for a minute in the oil, stirring until it starts to sizzle and break apart. Add the whole tomatoes and sugar and cook over medium heat, 12 to 15 minutes, until the tomatoes soften. Stir in the cream. Season with salt to taste. Puree in a blender until smooth and keep warm.
2. MAKE THE STICKS: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Add the eggs to a large bowl and lightly whisk to combine. In another large bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs with ¾ cup of the Parmesan and the oregano. Dip a mozzarella stick in the egg, turning it to coat, and place in the breadcrumbs, rolling to coat. Repeat, dipping again in the egg and rolling through the breadcrumbs. Arrange the sticks on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining sticks. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 12 hours.
3. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Place a baking sheet in the oven.
4. FRY: Pour the oil into a deep heavy-bottomed pot. Heat the oil over medium heat until it reaches 350°F on an instant-read thermometer. Set a wire rack over another baking sheet. Drop about six of the sticks into the oil and fry until they are browned, 3 to 4 minutes, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them, one at a time, to the rack. Ask an adult for help here if you need it! Season each stick immediately with salt and garlic powder. Place on the baking sheet in the oven to keep warm while you fry more (if you are frying more).
5. SERVE: Spoon the tomato sauce into a side bowl. Tear the basil leaves and stir them into the sauce. Arrange the mozzarella sticks on a platter, sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan, and serve immediately
“Reprinted with permission from Cook It Up: Bold Moves for Family Foods: A Cookbook by Alex Guarnaschelli and Ava Clark copyright © 2023. Photographs Copyright © 2023 by Suech and Beck. Photographs Copyright © 2023 by Ken Goodman. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House.”