Once in a year one is allowed to go crazy.
Carnevale is celebrated in Italy from the Epiphany on January 6th through Martedi grasso, the day prior to the beginning of la quaresima or Lent, a 40-day period of self-deprivation, fast and prayer that begins on Ash Wednesday. The days leading up to Lent are a time of indulgence before the penitence, traditionally dedicated to entertainment, music and revelry. Venice famously celebrates Carnevale with extravagant masquerade balls while towns such as Viareggio in Tuscany and Sciacca in Sicily hold parades with elaborate papier–mâché floats. Festivities are held in town piazze throughout Italy and playful mischief inevitably abounds, thus inspiring the saying, “a Carnevale ogni scherzo vale” – anything goes at Carnival.
Like every other Italian celebration, special foods are prepared for Carnevale and i dolci tradizionali di Carnevale typically consist of fried treats, including:
Cicerchiata – A specialty of Abruzzo and other Central Italian regions, la cicerchiata consists of tiny fried balls of dough rolled in honey, formed into rings, logs or individual clusters and decorated with colored sprinkles and slivered almonds. The dessert derives its name from la cicerchia, an ancient legume indigenous to Central Italy, the shape of which la cicerchiata resembles.
Struffoli or Pignolata – Southern Italy’s version of la cicerchiata, the fried honey balls are called struffoli in Naples and pignolata in Sicily.
Chiacchiere – Crispy strips or squares of fried dough flavored with wine or liqueur and generously dusted with powdered sugar. They are popular in regions throughout Italy, albeit by various colorful names: grostoli in Friuli, bugie in Piemonte, sfrappole in Emilia, galani in Veneto, frappe in Le Marche, cenci in Tuscany and chiacchiere in Campania.
Castagnole – Sweet, pillowy fritters that originated in Friuli.
Tortelli o Ravioli Dolci – Sweet fried ravioli or tortelli filled with ricotta, jam or dried fruit. In Naples, a variation called causone napoletano has a filling of sharp pecorino cheese.
Zeppole – The ancestor of the fried dough found at carnivals and street fairs in the US, zeppole are thought to have emerged in Naples in the 1800s and are prepared both with and without a custard filling.
Frittelle di Riso – Sweetened rice fritters from Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna – recipe below 🙂
Buon Carnevale a tutti!
Frittelle di Riso
Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©
Makes about 60 fritters
- 2 ½ cups Arborio rice
6 cups of milk
6 tablespoons sugar (plus more for sprinkling at the end)
- Peel of one lemon, shaved with a vegetable peeler
- Seeds from one vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 6 eggs, separated
- Pinch of salt
- 3 cups of oil for frying (vegetable, canola or olive oil is fine. I used canola.)
Combine rice, milk, 4 tablespoons of sugar, lemon peel and vanilla and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the rice is tender, stirring often to prevent sticking (all of the milk should be absorbed). Place rice in a large bowl and add beaten egg yolks, flour and baking powder. Stir to combine and let cool, but do not refrigerate. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt on low speed until foamy. Add the additional two tablespoons of sugar in a slow, steady stream and continue to whip the egg whites on high speed until they have soft peaks. Fold the egg whites into the rice mixture until evenly combined. (Prior to adding the egg whites, the rice mixture will be very dense – the addition of the egg whites should make the mixture much looser and appear creamier). In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil until shimmering. Drop fritters into the hot oil in tablespoons. Fry in batches (quickly), flipping when one side is golden (not brown). Remove to a plate lined with paper towels and generously sprinkle with sugar while still hot. Serve immediately or allow to cool and serve at room temperature. Buon appetito e Buon Carnevale!