Hello castagnole …or bignole or frittelle or whatever you call them where you live. They’re like fried doughnut holes but better. I made the pale ones using ricotta in the recipe, and the dark ones with cocoa powder. Both are delicious as is, but wickedly good when you fill them with Nutella. Just take a look.
See what I mean? Who the heck can resist one of these stuffed babies? Personally, my favorite are the pale ricotta castagnole. For the chocolate ones, I originally used a recipe I found in a February 2009 issue of Cucina Italiana magazine, but the batter was extremely thin and didn’t work at all. I had to add a lot more flour than the recipe called for just to keep them together in the oil. The next day, I checked the magazine’s website and found the recipe was corrected to triple the amount of flour that was in the magazine copy. Even so, making the chocolate ones is more difficult because it’s hard to tell from the color alone when they’re actually cooked through.
Carnevale is celebrated in many Catholic countries including Italy. Children dress up in costumes, flinging tiny scraps of colored paper called coriandoli (we call it confetti) along the streets. In Venice the celebration is particularly festive, with people in elaborate costumes and masquerades arriving from all over the world eager to strut their finery and vie for prizes. I’ve had the good fortune to be in Venice a few times during Carnevale. Here is just one of the many people in costume you see strolling the narrow streets and posing for photographers.
Fried food, including castagnole and chiacchiere (featured on this blog here) are a staple of the festivities, especially in the final week and days leading to Ash Wednesday and the solemn 40 day Lenten period. It’s a time to throw caution to the wind – party all night, eat all those decadent desserts and rich, cholesterol-laden meats. Hence the name fat Tuesday, as it’s known in the U.S. or Mardi gras, the French equivalent. The word carnevale derives from the Latin carn, meaning flesh, and levare, to put away. This year Ash Wednesday falls on February 22, so you’ve still got time to indulge in these delightful little treats.
And if you’ve decided to give up something else for Lent, like peas or okra, well then, you can continue eating these castagnole guilt-free all through the 40-day period.
Join me for a week in Italy at the end of May and live like an Italian – sightseeing, cooking and eating in a villa located in the Alban Hills near Rome. There’s still time to enroll. For details go to:
Heat oil in a pan (I use a cast iron skillet) to a depth of about three inches on a medium-high heat.
Beat eggs with a whisk in a large bowl. Add sugar, ricotta, salt, vanilla, flour and baking powder. Beat with a wooden spoon until mixed well. Batter should be thicker than pancake batter but not as thick as bread dough.
Drop a tablespoon full into a pan of hot oil. Fry the batter until they balls of dough are golden brown. They almost turn themselves over, but if they don’t make sure you flip them to fry all sides. Check the interior after you fry a few to make sure they’re cooked through. Adjust the temperature if necessary.
Drain on paper towels. Use a pastry bag and pipe with Nutella. Alternately, cut a hole with a knife and insert a small bit of Nutella. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
1½ tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
Pinch of salt
1 cup whole milk
3½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
1¼ tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
⅔ cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
½ cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
⅔ cup milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
About 3 quarts vegetable oil
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
For Pastry Cream: In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt until thick and pale, about 2 minutes. In a medium saucepan, bring milk to a boil over medium heat; remove from heat.
In a slow and steady stream, whisking constantly, add about 2 tablespoons of the hot milk to the egg mixture; then, whisking, add remaining milk. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, return to medium heat, and, whisking constantly and vigorously, bring to a boil. Cook, whisking constantly and into the edges of pot, until mixture is thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat, whisk in chocolate, and let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk in butter pieces, one at a time, until pastry cream is smooth and silky. Transfer cream to a clean bowl, immediately cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a crust from forming, and chill until cold, about 1 hour (pastry cream can be made up to 1 day ahead).
For puffs: In a bowl, whisk together flour, ⅔ cup cocoa powder, granulated sugar, eggs, egg yolk, milk, butter, baking powder, vanilla and salt until smooth.
Heat about 3 inches oil to 375° in a 3-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat. Drop teaspoonfuls of batter into oil and fry, about 10 at a time, until puffed and dark golden, 1 to 1½ minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer puffs to paper towels to drain.
Transfer filling to a large pastry bag fitted with a ¼-inch plain tip. Insert the pastry tip into the center of one puff; pipe in about 1 teaspoon pastry cream (do not overfill). Transfer filled puff to a parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining puffs.
In a bowl, whisk together remaining 2 tablespoons cocoa powder and confectioners’ sugar; dust puffs with cocoa mixture. Serve at room temperature.