Herby Mozzarella Sticks Recipe with Pizza Flavour Dipping Sauce

My Pete just loves mozzarella sticks. He loves anything cheese related really, but when it's hot and crumbed and with a sauce (like little camembert bites with cranberry sauce) he gets really happy. I have a hatred of deep frying and there are only two occasions when I'd make the effort to do it - when I'm making calamari or tempura (my favourites) or when I'm making a treat for my guy. 

A few posts ago I shared what I got in my Not Another Bill box this month which included some lovely dried oregano from Mount Taygetus in Greece and I'd been trying to think of a recipe where this could really show what it's made of and be a forefront flavour. When I think of oregano the first thing I think of is marinara sauce, that unctuous tomato sauce rich with garlic and herby zing. The obvious choices would have been to use a batch as a pasta sauce over meatballs or as a base for a pizza but I wanted to try something different, so I tried to think of a pizza-like dish that didn't involve making any dough and would be a nice Sunday treat for Pete and I and settled on these babies.

Remember to get the dry block mozzarella rather than the balls kept in liquid - you want as little moisture as you can when frying things or you'll get a storm of spitting fat which is no fun for anyone. I used panko breadcrumbs cause they go mega crispy but feel free to use normal breadcrumbs or polenta, you'll just get a smoother looking finish and a bit less of a crunch - panko are available in most supermarkets nowadays though so you shouldn't have too much trouble finding them.

Herby Mozzarella Sticks with Pizza Flavour Dipping Sauce
Makes 18 sticks serving 4 as a snack or starter

Sauce Ingredients
140g tin of tomato paste
1 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin for a stronger flavour if possible)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp garlic granules
1-3 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to season
75-100ml hot water

Mozzarella Stick Ingredients
400g block mozzarella cheese, cut into thick sticks (I got 18 out of my block)
3-4 tbsp plain flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
60-70g panko breadcrumbs
2 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper to season
oil for frying, something bland and with a high smoking point, I used sunflower

Sauce Method
Mix all ingredients in a small pan (add the sugar and salt and pepper to taste) and heat over a medium heat until the flavours have come together, the sugar has melted and the sauce is hot, about 5 minutes. Use as much water as you need to get the thickness you desire adding it little by little, I make it quite thin to make dipping easier. Spoon into little dishes or shot glasses for dipping the sticks just before serving.

Mozzarella Sticks Method
Pour enough oil into a heavy bottomed pan to be about 2 inches deep and set over a medium high heat while you coat your sticks.
Mix together the breadcrumbs, oregano and salt and pepper and place in a shallow dish. Put the flour in another shallow dish and the beaten egg in another.
Roll each stick into the plain flour to coat, then dip into the beaten egg ensuring it is properly coated and then roll it in the breadcrumbs so you have a nice think coating. When each is covered set it aside on a clean plate, it's easiest to get them all coated and then fry in batches than it is to coat and then fry one by one.
Take 3-4 sheets of kitchen roll and place on another plate on a cool surface next to your heating oil. Drop a breadcrumb or pinch of flour into the oil - if it sizzles and browns quickly the oil is ready, if not leave it to heat up a little more until this works.
Fry your sticks in batches, I did three at a time as I used a smallish pan. When they start to get golden give them a flip with some tongs or a slotted spoon to make sure all sides get nice and brown. When they've reached the colour you desire and are nice and crispy take them out and lay them on the kitchen roll to soak up a bit of the oil. If it takes too long for the crumbs to brown the cheese will melt too much and you'll have a big mess on your hands, so make sure the oil is hot enough for the sticks to cook in less than a minute.

Serve up your sticks with a little pot of sauce and start dipping!

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