Baked Mozzarella Sticks with Roasted Red Pepper Dipping Sauce
Cheese is one of my favorite ingredients. I love almost any kind of cheese, served almost any way. I love grilled cheese sandwiches, baked brie, cheese enchiladas, and a good cheese board is my idea of a perfect dinner. I’ve been puzzled, then, about why I’ve never liked Mozzarella Sticks. Gooey, melty, fried cheese with a crispy coating – what’s not to love? But I’ve always found these little fried sticks to be greasy and flavorless with an unappealing, spongey texture. I could only conclude that I’d never had mozzarella sticks made correctly and I was determined to come up with a homemade version that was everything I missed in the restaurant varieties. I started by using mozzarella sticks cut from a chunk of high-quality mozzarella, rather than the string-cheese used in many recipes. The coating is a combination of fresh bread crumbs, crunchy panko, parsley and a little parmesan for flavor. A mozzarella stick made from scratch deserves a good dipping sauce, so I finished off the recipe with a roasted red pepper based dipping sauce made with fresh basil and garlic. See the recipe and a comparison with frozen mozzarella sticks below:
- For Sauce:
- 1 12 ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained
- 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- For mozzarella sticks:
- 1 pound mozzarella cheese, cut into 3 inch long sticks, frozen overnight
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 eggs, whisked
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
- 2 Tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing the baking sheet
- 1. Preheat oven to 425Âº. For the sauce, combine the drained roasted peppers, diced tomatoes, basil and garlic in a food processor or blender. Process until everything is well combined but sauce is still slightly chunky. Pour into a medium saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly.
- 2. While the sauce cooks, prepare a baking sheet by lining it with foil and spraying or brushing the foil with olive oil. Place the flour in a medium bowl and the eggs in another. In a third bowl, combine the bread crumbs, parsley, parmesan and 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Mix well with a fork to blend.
- 3. Remove the cheese sticks from the freezer. Dip one of the sticks of cheese in the flour, followed by the egg, and finish by dipping it in the bread crumb mixture, pressing to help the breadcrumbs adhere. Place on the baking sheet and repeat with remaining cheese sticks. Once all cheese sticks are covered in breadcrumb coating, place baking sheet in the preheated oven and bake 12 minutes, flipping the cheese sticks halfway through. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
- 4. Serve baked mozzarella sticks with the dipping sauce.
I really liked these homemade mozzarella sticks, they were certainly fresher tasting and had a better texture than the restaurant versions I’ve had, but they weren’t without drawbacks. For one thing, even after freezing the mozzarella, I found that the sticks spread out a lot during baking. I could kind of reshape them after they had cooled a little to be more “stick shaped”, but they certainly weren’t as stiff as the store bought kind. Also, these do take a bit of effort to make. The dipping and breading process produces a lot of dirty dishes and is kind of time-consuming.
Also on the downside for the homemade mozzarella sticks – cost. A pound of mozzarella costs at least $5.00, while a pound of pre-made, frozen mozzarella sticks is only $4.50. Add in the cost of eggs, flour, panko, etc., and the homemade variety are easily $2.00 more expensive than the store bought mozzarella sticks.
Bottom Line: Homemade Baked Mozzarella Sticks are a little pricier than the store bought kind and certainly require a lot more effort. Also, they will not end up being a uniform shape or size as they tend to melt and spread in the oven. Given those drawbacks, I still much prefer the homemade variety of Mozzarella Sticks. They had a much more authentic mozzarella flavor, a super crunchy coating, and the texture was gooey and oozy, as cheese should be, rather than stiff or foamy.