Like in most catholic countries, the start of lent is a big occasion in Italy. Carnival (carnivale) runs from “fat Thursday , giovedi grasso” until “fat Tuesday, martedi grasso”. Traditionally people dress up in masks and costumes, but outside of Venice, this is mostly only done by small children. However everybody uses it as an excuse to eat lots of sweet things. This is Italy after all 🙂 This recipe is for one of the most common biscuits. They have many regional names, bugie, cenci, crostoli, frappe, galani, sfrappole ,but here they are known as chiacchiere. A rough translation would be “chatty biscuits”. There are many variations on the basic recipe, some include grappa or wine, or lemon zest, but this is one of the simplest.
280g plain flour
70g potato starch (if you can’t find this, use all plain flour)
20g unsalted butter
20g icing sugar
3 medium eggs
A few drops of vanilla essence or a sachet of vanilla extract
1 tsp of baking powder
Oil for deep frying
Mix all the ingredients together to form a dough.
Chiacchere mixing dough
Knead it for a couple of minutes until it’s smooth.
Roll it out very thinly. If the dough is too sticky, dust with a little flour. You are aiming for about the thickness of lasagne. In fact, if you have a pasta rolling machine, that would be perfect.
Chiacchere ready to fry
Cut out rectangles of about 6×3 cm (2×1 inch) and make a slit in the middle. A pastry wheel is good for this.
Deep fry in hot oil (about 190°c 375°f) until they are puffed up and lightly golden.
From Puglia. Pettole are sweet or savoury doughnuts. In the region of Campania , and I believe the US, they are known as zeppole. Here in Puglia, zeppole refers to a cake traditionally eaten on St Joseph’s day. They are called pettole here in Puglia and some regions of Basilicata. They are traditionally eaten on St Martin’s day in Lecce (Nov 11), St Cecilia’s day in Taranto (Nov 22), Around the immaculate conception on the 7th and 8th of December in Brindisi, and Christmas Eve in Foggia. They are generally eaten during the Christmas period throughout the region. They can be prepared in two ways, sweet or savoury. The savoury version can be plain, or contain other ingredients, such as olives, cooked cauliflower, salt cod , sundried tomatoes and anchovies. The sweet versions are dredged in sugar and/or dipped in vincotto a sweet, concentrated grape juice produced in Puglia. Honey or jam are also common if you can’t find vincotto.
375 ml warm water
500 g oo flour
Half a block of fresh yeast or 3½ g dried
2 tsp of salt
Oil for deep frying
For the savoury version:- 10 olives, stoned and sliced into rings. Use black or green or a mixture of both.
For the sweet version:- Granulated sugar, vincotto or honey.
Dissolve the yeast in the water. Mix together the water and flour. Add the salt at the end of mixing. You should have a very wet dough. If you are making the savoury version, stir in the olives.
Pettole mixed dough
Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise for about 2 hours.
Pettole ready to cook
Wet your hands and scoop up about a tablespoon of dough and deep fry until it is lightly brown. You will need to turn them halfway through cooking. Drain on kitchen paper.
If you are making the sweet version, dredge each pettole in sugar and serve with a dish of vincotto or honey to dip them in.
Pasta cresciuta. From Naples. My local pizzaria here in Bari is Neapolitan and cooks what the locals regard as “thick” pizzas. The Barese go there when they want some foreign food 🙂 They also cook a few specialities from Naples, such as arancini and this dish. Pasta cresciuta means “grown dough”, because the batter contains yeast. You can cook them without a filling, or with some of the more traditional ones such as courgette flowers or anchovies. Alternatively experiment with what you have to hand. The batter will make about 60-80 pieces.
Mixed fritters ingredients
Sun-dried tomato halves, soaked to soften
Courgette (Zucchini) flowers picked over to make sure they don’t contain any insects etc.
Large sage leaves
Oil for deep frying (traditionally olive oil, but sunflower oil is acceptable)
For the batter
1 cube of fresh yeast
320ml lukewarm water
300g oo flour
A pinch of salt
First make the batter. Dissolve the yeast in the water. Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Make a well in the centre and add the yeast mixture. Beat it with a whisk until smooth. Cover and leave in a warm place for 1 – 2 hours to rise. It should about double in size.
Mixed fritters batter
Heat a pan full of oil to a medium heat, about 180°c. If the oil is too hot the fritters will be raw on the inside and burnt on the the outside. If the temperature is too low they will be soggy. A litte experimentation may be needed to get it right.
Mixed fritters cooking
To make plain fritters, drop tablespoons of the batter into the hot oil. Cook until they are lightly browned, turning once. You are aiming to keep a reasonably soft texture. Think savory doughnuts. Drain on kitchen paper. Dip the various fillings into the batter and continue as before.
They are best eaten hot, but may also be eaten cold.
Plum Cake. You see this cake all over Italy. It is a type of sponge cake, baked in a loaf tin, similar to what is known as a loaf cake in the UK. In my opinion Italy does most things to do with food extremely well. One possible exception is breakfast. It is usually just coffee and some variety of cake. The coffee is very good though 🙂 This is a very common breakfast cake. I haven’t translated the name. It always appears in English, although the pronunciation is more ploomcake. It never, however, contains plums, or indeed any other kind of fruit. I have asked around, but nobody has any idea how it got its name. If anybody knows, please let me know.
200g icing sugar
4 eggs, seperated
200g unsalted butter
200g 00 flour
1 tsp baking powder
A few drops of vanilla essence
A pinch of salt
Plum Cake ingredients
Beat the butter together with the sugar using a wooden spoon.
Plum Cake butter and sugar
When they are combined, add the egg yolks and continue beating until you get a smooth mixture.
Plum Cake egg yolks
Whip the egg white, together with a pinch of salt, with an electric whisk until you get stiff peaks.
Plum Cake egg whites
Gently fold in the egg whites, into the egg yolk mixture.
Plum Cake flour
Gently fold in the flour, baking powder and the vanilla essence.
Plum Cake ready for the oven
Grease a large loaf tin with butter and dust with flour. Pour in the mixture.
Plum Cake finished dish
Bake at 170°c for 40-45 minutes. When a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean, it is ready.
From Piemonte. In my experience the bread you can buy from a good baker is usually a superior product to home-made, unless you have a great deal of time to invest and a very good oven. Here in Italy very few people make bread at home. Focaccia and other bread like products are another thing though. It is quite easy to make grissini, or breadsticks, at home and they will usually be much better than the shop bought variety, especially outside of Italy. The original recipe is from a baker, so has been scaled down drastically, by a factor of about 10. The quantities and proving time are not extremely sensitive, so you have a bit of leeway.
500g 00 flour or similar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp malt (or sugar)
1 cube of fresh yeast or the equilvalent amount of dried
1 tsp of lard (replace with oil if you want a vegetarian version)
Up to 300ml of tepid water
A little semolina for dusting
Grissini mixing the dough
Mix together the flour, salt, malt, yeast and lard. Add water, little by little, until you get a soft pliable dough. Make sure you knead it well.
Grissini kneading the dough
Form into a rectangle about 15cm long by 3cm deep. Cover with a clean towel and leave to prove for about 2 hours.
Grissini proving the dough
Cut the dough into 2cm strips and stretch to make the grissini shapes. I prefer them quite chunky, but remember that they will about double in size in the oven.
Grissini cutting strips
Bake them at 200°C until golden brown (about 18-20 minutes).
Fiori di zucca fritti. Courgette flowers are just starting to become available in markets in the UK, however, I wouldn’t attempt this dish unless you can get them really fresh. If you grow your own courgettes, you’re laughing . I am growing them in pots on my balcony this year so this recipe will get a lot of use.
Flower on the plant
To trim, if they are male flowers they will have a straight stalk, trim the ends if needed, gently open up the flower and pinch out the stamens. If they are female flowers they will have a courgette attached. If it is a baby, cut it into 4, but leave it attached to the flower, otherwise detach the flower. Serves 4
12 courgette flowers, trimmed
For the batter
350g 00 flour
400 ml cold water
A large pinch of salt
Mix together the flour, water and salt. Add enough water to get a consistency of single cream. Leave to rest for an hour or so.
Fried cougette flowers batter
Dip the flowers in the batter and deep fry until they are lightly brown
Fried courgette flowers frying
Drain on kitchen paper, season with salt and serve immediately.