You’re dining al fresco at a small cafe in Sorrento, Italy, overlooking the Gulf of Naples. Seated at a small table with a blue-and-white checkered tablecloth, you see the turquoise waters, smell the ocean aroma, and feel the cool sea breeze on your face. Just then, your waiter delivers a hand-woven basket lined with paper and filled with fried fish and assorted seafood.
Dressed only with a sprinkle of salt and a halved lemon on the side, the ocean morsels crunch with fresh, seaside flavor for a singular essence that blends the brininess of the deep sea with a hint of natural sweetness.
Mixed, Italian-style fried seafood—or fritto misto de mare or frittura di paranza—is truly as simple as delicious food can possibly get. The classic recipe takes a heap of seafood, in an array of varieties, dredges it all in flour and fries the bounty in oil. That’s it. No buttermilk or beer battering necessary—just flour and the fishes’ natural talents.
Real Seafoods Of Italy
In terms of sheer geography, Italy is in a primo position to access some of the world’s best seafood. As the country juts out in its signature boot-shape, it finds itself surrounded by the Adriatic, Ionian, and Tyrrhenian seas, along with the most well-known of that region’s nautical expanses, the Mediterranean Sea.
Excluding northernmost Italy, where fish is less common because of that region’s more mountainous terrain, seafood figures prominently in Italian cuisine, from antipasti to entrées and everything in between. In fact, Italy’s love of seafood and the staple food’s predominance in the countrywide cuisine gave rise to the term frutti di mare, which translates to “fruits of the sea,” but is the catch-all phrase that refers to seafood in general.
"The contents of a fritto misto de mare depends entirely on who creates it and what seafood they decide to harvest for the dish."
Not all regions of Italy celebrate the same seafood. Starting in the north, the Veneto region to the east catches shrimp, eel, clam, and different types of fish. And to the west, Liguria enjoys swordfish, sea bass, tuna, and sardines. Tuscany’s western edge in the central region sees the emergence of a seafood and fish stew known as cacciucco alla livornese, while Le Marche to the east contributes a fish stew called brodetto from the Ancona region.
Italy’s southern region likely offers the biggest bounty in terms of seafood variety. First, Puglia presents hearty dishes like stewed or grilled mussels, octopus, and fish, but the most bountiful offerings come from the islands of Sardinia and Sicily. In Sardinia, fregola—a pasta similar in size and shape to couscous—cooks in a stew with clams, while bottarga (fish eggs), sea urchin, lobster, and octopus salad are also popular, depending on where in Sardinia you find yourself.
In Sicily, the island is famous for its plump specimens of sardines that are caught off its shores every single day. One of the more popular sardine dishes is called beccafico, which stuffs the fish with raisins, pine nuts, breadcrumbs, and aromatic herbs. Pasta con le sarde is another rustic and fishy Sicilian dish, with fresh sardines, salted anchovy fillets, and wild fennel over bucatini pasta.
Fried Seafood Brings It Back To Basics
What makes fritto misto de mare so appealing to seafood purists is its simplicity in preparation and its ubiquity throughout multiple regions. No matter where you eat in Italy, there’s likely a local version of fried mixed seafood using whatever ocean ingredients are available to restaurant chefs, home cooks or dockside food vendors.
And that’s the beauty of this dish—the contents of a fritto misto de mare depends entirely on who creates it and what seafood they decide to harvest for the dish. In discovering your own personal mix of fried seafood at home, visit your local grocery store or fish market and see what’s available and what’s the freshest. Grab sardines if they’re available or perhaps some smelt; opt for calamari, using both tentacles and rings; include scallops in your mix; and definitely reel in some medium or large shrimp, head-on if possible.
The world of fritto misto de mare is your oyster! And grab some oysters while you’re at it!
Check out this recipe for fritto misto de mare that incorporates vegetables and a spicy Calabrian chile aioli!
Go Fishing For Paesana As A Dipping Sauce
Sure, the simplicity of fried seafood with a flour dredge and a sprinkle of salt is fantastic and delicious, but adding a side of Paesana pasta sauce for dipping takes fritto misto de mare many fathoms more deep. Paesana’s Marinara sauce is probably the most obvious option, as marinara translates to “seafaring” and has been used for centuries as the go-to sauce for seafood. But don’t forget about our Fra Diavolo sauce, perfect for when you want to add a fiery kick to the subtle seafood flavors. Our Roasted Garlic and Tomato Basil sauces are also flavorful alternatives, adding an aromatic dimension to the bouquet of the sea.
Simply heat any of your favorite Paesana sauces in a saucepan and serve alongside your fritto misto de mare kitchen creation!