This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
As the spit and gridiron are specialities of the English kitchen, so the frying-pan is the speciality of the Italian cook; and, as England has taught the world to roast, so Italy has taught the world to fry. Frying is quite a science in that country and a science which every maid and mistress studies with all her might, for as there is no Italian dinner without its antepasto, so there is none of any consequence without its dish of fry or fritto, as it is called in Italy. Meat, fish, vegetables, all may be fried, and generally meat and vegetables, or fish and vegetables, are fried together. Whatever the articles, they must be fried in boiling fat, and at a brisk fire. Not a moment must elapse between the frying and the serving. The smallest delay is ruinous to the success of the dish, as it tends to make the fritto lose its crispness, and become flabby. Whilst the soup is being taken, the fritto is cooked. If need be, good eaters will readily consent to a "wait" rather than endanger the full success of the fritto.
Oil is much used in Italy for frying, especially for fish. But Italy has the advantage of pure oils, which this country does not possess. Oil, even the best, has the disadvantage of burning very easily and of making the fritto too dark in color, instead of a rich golden-brown, which it should be.
Every kind of meat, vegetables, and fish may be fried. The favorite Italian fritto, however, is the mixed fritto - composed of veal cutlets, calf's brains (which t is quite equal to sweetbread) and sliced artichokes, gourds or potatoes cut in short narrow sticks. A great secret of the excellence of the Italian fritto is that everything that is to be fried is previously soaked in a batter made of different ingredients, which vary according to what has to be fried. For an ordinary mixedfritto, for instance, you make a batter composed, say, of a qnarter of a pound of flour to the yolk of one egg, a tea-spoonful of vinegar or the juice of half a lemon, and thirty grains of fine oil. Beat well together, adding occasionally a little water or beer, or white wine, just enough to make the batter liquid. Then beat the white of the egg apart and to a foam, and add this foam to the batter at the very last moment, just as you are going to fry. The calf's brains must be well cleaned, skinned, and rinsed or boiled for a few minutes before being fried, and the same with sweetbread; they must be then left to cool. When cold they are cut into small pieces, about the size of a large walnut. Soak them first in a little oil, salt, and vinegar.
Then dry then with a clean cloth and soak in the batter, from which they are thrown into boiling fat or butter and fried to a rich golden color. When quite crisp, and of the required color, take them out of the fat and lay them on clean white paper or a clean cloth, to absorb the fat. They should also be served on a cloth. Cutlets only require to be soaked in the batter previous to frying. Vegetables, whether artichokes, cauliflowers,or gourds, are partly boiled in salt and water before being fried. Potatoes are better not previously boiled, but they are cut into short thin strips in order to fry easily. Artichokes must be trimmed of all their outer tough leaves, the heart alone being fried; this is cut into four parts like an orange.