Rosemarie over at Turin Mamma has prepared fagioli grassi;
Daniela of La Dani Gourmet is sharing her recipe for bomboloni;
Lisa aka Italian Kiwi has made one of my very favorites crostoli alla Nutella;
Carmen at The Heirloom Chronicles has chosen baccala fritta con peperoni cruschi;
Flavia from Flavia's Flavors is sharing frijole veneziane;
Last but not least Marialuisa over at Marmellata di Cipolle has made polpette di carnevale al sugo di pomodoro.
My personal favorite Carnevale fare are the dolci fritti, or fried desserts, because if you'll be fasting and not eating meat for over a month, you might as well go all out and eat your desserts fried, no? Carnevale treats include the above mentioned bomboloni and crostoli, plus ciambelle, frappe, bugie, and the star of today's post, castagnole.
If you're not familiar with these little gems, I think they can best be described as the Italian version of a doughnut hole -- little rounds of fried dough -- but even better, lighter and more flavorful and with many preparations, each more delicious than the next. I've seen them filled with chocolate, dipped in alchermes or honey, or -- my favorite -- made with ricotta. As you'll remember from this lemon, ricotta, and olive oil cake and this ricotta pound cake, I'm no stranger to baking with ricotta, an ingredient I find so-so as is but spectacular when used as an ingredient in desserts, where it lends a lightness and fluffiness. These castagnole are no exception, rendered cloud-like after a good dose of ricotta, tinged with fragrant, sunny orange zest, perfect rolled in a bit of sugar, excellent served warm or at room temperature. I'll keep the description short here because let's be honest: this is fried dough. You can never go wrong with fried dough.
...except maybe you can, because fried dough is, well, fried! I know what you're probably thinking, and I get it! If there's one form of cooking I used to tiptoe around and avoid, it was frying, as we're dealing with a pot of bubbling hot oil -- intimidating, to say the least -- and besides that, frying not done right equals soggy, heavy food or food burned to a crisp. But relax! Frying isn't so scary. Here are a few helpful tips that I've picked up over the years that have freed me from my frying fears:
-Use the right kind of oil! Vegetable, peanut, canola, sunflower, and corn oil are good for frying as they have a neutral flavor and high smoking point.
-If you want to be sure the oil is the exact right temperature, invest in a kitchen thermometer (they look like these) which only cost a few dollars and can be found in most kitchenware shops (or Amazon.com). In the case of these castagnole, I do a fry test by throwing a little bit of batter in -- if it starts cooking when it hits the oil, I know its ready. However, a good kitchen thermometer is good to have on hand and will be useful in all our future frying endeavors.
-Make sure you have a large pot with high sides -- that way, if the oil gets a little bubbly, its sure to bubble right up the pot and not on to your stove top or you. Make sure that you have about 3 inches or so of side once you've poured the oil in. Woks, Dutch ovens, or big saucepans with high sides are usually suitable.
-Don't crowd the pot when frying, as this will lower the temperature of the oil and give you soggy fried food. For example, you should fry these castagnole 4-5 at a time, in batches.
-Be sure to lower whatever you are frying slowly -- no splashing! -- in to the oil using tongs or a slotted spoon. Be sure to wear an apron, too.
-To remove your castagnole (or whatever you are frying) from the oil, you can use a slotted spoon. If you want to be fancy, there are also these bamboo skimmers that work well and are cheap, but I doubt most people have them in their kitchens.
-Last thing: keep in mind that this is a shallow fry, not a deep fry (with a deep fry, your fried food is floating in the oil). Here, the castagnole are submerged in oil, but we're only working with a few inches of it. Phew!
A couple more notes: I used ricotta di mucca (cow's milk ricotta) from my local cheese shop which was a drier variety. Ricotta in Italy tends to be a bit drier than the ricotta in the U.S, so if you're in the States making these, you might want to drain off any extra moisture from the ricotta by letting it drain in a sieve over a large bowl, kept covered in the fridge, for about two hours. If you're wondering what to do with the oil after you've used it, Bon Appetit Magazine taught me that you can strain the oil into a glass jar to remove any fried bits, then storing it in a cool, dark place. It can be used 3 or so times more, depending on what you've fried (if you've fried seafood, for example, best to discard the oil). Pour the oil in to a container, let it soldify a bit, and then toss it. Finally, if you're looking for other pre-Lenten treats, may I remind you that there are also these Danish Fastelvansboller on the blog!
CASTAGNOLE DI RICOTTA
1 cup (225 grams) ricotta
5 tablespoons (60 grams) sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest from 1 orange (or lemon, if you prefer!)
1 cup flour, plus a little extra for shaping the castagnole
1 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoons (6 grams) baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
500 ml oil (I used peanut oil)
Sugar, for dusting
Drain your ricotta for about two hours in a sieve placed over a bowl if you have ricotta that has more moisture (see note above). In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg, sugar, orange zest, and vanilla until the mixture is smooth.
In another bowl sift together the salt, flour, and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the ricotta mixture a little at a time, stirring until a thick batter starts to form. If the dough seems too soft, add another tablespoon or so of flour.
Next, flour your hands (note that you'll need a bit of flour on your hands each time you roll a castagnole). Break off bits of dough and roll the castagnole into balls, and place them on a large plate. You should have 25-30 balls of dough.
Heat the oil in a large pot with high sides until it reaches about 170 degrees celsius (if you have a kitchen thermometer to test this, great -- otherwise just throw in a small piece of dough. If it starts frying the dough right away, you're ready to go). Fry the castagnole about 5 at a time, turning them with a slotted spoon. Let the castagnole cook until browned and cooked through, about 3-4 minutes.
Remove the castagnole to a paper plate lined with wax paper or paper towels to let the excess oil drain off. Continue with the remaining castagnole.
Roll the castagnole in sugar while still warm. You can also dust these with powdered sugar, which is pretty, but note that the powdered sugar is eventually absorbed by the castagnole and disappears. remove to a serving plate, and eat warm or room temperature. Makes 20-30 castagnole.
Recipe adapted from www.giallozafferano.com.