Mini Mozzarella Sticks with Marinara Dipping Sauce
Mozzarella sticks are a must-order whenever I see them on a menu, but the truth is they are really easy to prepare at home, too. All it takes is a few basic ingredients you probably already have on hand and a little patience. Once you try this recipe, I guarantee you’re going to want to make it over and over again! I chose to make them mini because I always feel badly double-dipping my mozz sticks in the group marinara, and these mini ones are perfect for just one dunk. Enjoy the mozzarella sticks dunked into marinara sauce or on a salad. They can also be assembled in advance and stored in the freezer, ready to fry anytime you want an appetizer or snack.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Make room for the baking sheet in your freezer.
Blitz the panko in a food processor until it has the texture of coarse sand. Make a dredging station by preparing 3 large resealable plastic bags. In the first bag, whisk together the eggs with 3 tablespoons water. In the second, combine the flour and 1 tablespoon salt. In the third, combine the panko and Parmesan, as well as the dried basil, dried oregano and/or dried parsley if using.
Working in an assembly line, add the mozzarella to the egg mixture, tossing to coat. Allow any excess egg to drip off, then transfer the mozzarella to the flour mixture and shake to coat. Transfer the mozzarella back to the egg mixture, tossing to coat. Transfer the mozzarella to the panko mixture and shake to coat. Transfer the mozzarella back to the egg mixture and then the panko mixture one more time, then place on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Place the baking sheet with the mozzarella sticks in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes (see Cook’s Note).
Meanwhile, make the marinara sauce. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the fennel seeds and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, 1 minute more. Stir in the tomato sauce and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt to taste and keep warm.
When ready to fry the mini mozzarella sticks, add a 1/2 inch of neutral oil to a large skillet or Dutch oven and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Set a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet or line with paper towels.
Fry the mozzarella sticks in batches until golden, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to the wire rack and immediately season with salt.
Pour the marinara sauce into a ramekin, then place the mozzarella sticks on a serving platter, top with some Parmesan and the chopped parsley and enjoy!
The frozen mini mozzarella sticks can be transferred to a new resealable freezer bag and stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.