Pasta Series #9: Rosa's Paglia e Fieno

It's the last day of February -- the shortest of all months, meaning time was tight in terms of blogging! -- but I've persevered against all odds (all in the name of pasta) and managed to find time for the latest round of the blog's Pasta Series -- number 9, to be exact! 

This month's recipe comes from the Pasta Grannies Cookbook, which was born out of the brilliant and ever-so-informative Pasta Grannies Project. If you're not familiar: Pasta Grannies is a YouTube channel/Instagram profile started by Brit Vicky Bennison, documenting nonne from all over Italy who make fresh pasta, thus both preserving the tradition and also promoting it. Happily enough, the project -- with its nearly 450,000 followers -- shows that perhaps the art of handmade pasta -- something that doesn't seem to quite fit in with the desire for speed, efficiency, instant gratification that defines today's lifestyle -- isn't lost quite yet. The book is a beautiful collection of not only recipes but also traditions and the stories of many Nonne -- Giuseppina and her pici, Maria and her raschiatelli, Carmela and her cavatelli, among so many others-- and I can’t say enough good things about it. Whether you're a pastahead like me or not -- it's worth getting a copy.

So! For February's post, I was a bit combattuta, i.e torn -- I was pondering making pizzoccheri from up North, a pasta dish I'd fallen in love with at Grano & Farina, hearty buckwheat pasta with lots of butter, cheese, potatoes, and cabbage; I had a day or two where I also considered making gnocchi alla romana, which made
with semolina, milk, and butter, cut into rounds and cooked until golden brown; I also was intrigued by gnudi, dumplings reminiscent of ricotta-filling served in butter and sage. In short, I was uncertain as to what would be my February pasta, when along came this paglia e fieno, i.e "straw and hay" pasta, more specifically "Rosa's Straw and Hay Pasta" from the Pasta Grannies book.

My friend Jeff -- who I taught to make pasta when he visited us last summer! -- is also a proud owner of a Pasta Grannies cookbook, and a pretty good pasta maker himself by now. He was the first one to bring my attention to Rosa's excellent recipe, noting however that he had made the pasta with a machine and not with a rolling pin -- I reminded him he himself was not a pasta granny, so he needn't have worried --and suddenly my musings about pizzoccheri, gnocchi, and gnudi (I challenge you to find me a set of words more fun to say than those) were set aside the green and yellow pasta I remembered seeing so often when living in Bologna back in the day.

Rosa -- a tiny woman who needs a step reach her pasta board properly, and who says that the secret to good pasta is good flour -- clearly, unsurprisingly, makes spectacular pasta. Apart from being beautiful to look at -- emerald green and sunny yellow ribbons all twisted together -- this pasta is delicate, silky in that wonderful way that only fresh pasta can be, and the sauce! I admit I was a little skeptical about the sauce here -- tomato and pancetta went well together, or peas and pancetta, sure, but the idea of mixing peas with tomatoes seemed odd to me? -- but I needn't have worried! This sauce just works, the sweetness of the peas tempered by salty, smoky pancetta, the tomatoes coating every strand of pasta to perfection. Best of all, it is speedy, easy -- especially if you use frozen peas, like I did -- making you realize that even a pasta granny has her shortcuts. I loved, loved, loved this pasta. I was sad when I came home and saw my sister had eaten the last bit. I am already planning when I can make it again. The more I learn about pasta, and the more I work on this series, I wonder:

Really though, is there anything better than pasta-making?!

A couple of notes: I found that the sauce quantities given in this recipe were too little for the amount of pasta; therefore, I have revamped the sauce recipe a little bit. Be prepared for the spinach pasta to be a little more delicate than your typical egg pasta, and use a little more flour if needed. If you're cooking for vegetarians, feel free to leave out the pancetta. Vicky notes here that in the autumn, the peas here in the sauce can be swapped for mushrooms. Finally, I used a pasta machine for this recipe, but use a rolling pin if that's your preferred method!

Want to know what the other 8 recipes are in my blog's Pasta Series? I've got these ravioli, this lasagne ai carciofi, these gnocchetti sardi, these cavatelli, these orecchiette, these pumpkin gnocchi, these spatzle with butter and chives and these garganelli

ROSA'S STRAW & HAY PASTA (PAGLIA E FIENO)
Serves 6. Recipe barely adapted from the Pasta Grannies Cookbook by Vicky Bennison. 

Ingredients for the "straw" pasta:
300 grams 00 flour
3 eggs (150 grams)

Ingredients for the "hay" pasta:
300 grams 00 flour
2 eggs 
100 grams (3.5 ounces) fresh spinach

Ingredients for the pea, pancetta, tomato sauce:
Olive oil
3 ounces (84 grams) smoked pancetta, diced
A yellow onion, finely sliced 
18 ounces (500 grams) passata or crushed tomatoes 
8 ounces (200 grams) fresh or frozen peas, depending on the time of the year 
Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions:

1. Start with your "straw" pasta i.e your plain egg pasta. Place a bowl on a scale and use the TARE option to eliminate it's weight; break the eggs into the bowl and measure the weight. Make sure there are 150 grams of eggs; depending on the size of your eggs, take away some egg or add a little water if you're eggs don't weigh enough. Beat your eggs together and set aside. Next, measure out 300 grams of flour and place it in a large bowl. Make a well in the flour and pour in the eggs. Gradually, with the aid of a fork, work the eggs into the flour until you get a shaggy mass. If the dough is a little dry add a little cold water. 

2. Upturn the contents of the bowl onto a worktop (wooden preferably or maybe a large chopping board, but a pasta board is ideal here) and start to knead it. The pasta machine will do most of the work later so you only should knead the dough until it comes together. Unless your hands are very cold, body heat should work its magic on the eggs and turn the dough silky smooth. For a short explanation on how to knead the dough via my friend Carla, click right here!

3. Next, leave the dough under an upturned mixing bowl (or wrap in plastic wrap) to rest for at least 30 minutes. Note that at this stage, the dough may be refrigerated until the next day and slowly brought back at room temperature prior to use.

4. On to your spinach dough (the "hay"!) Puree your spinach and eggs together in a food processor until smooth. Proceed exactly as you did above, using the spinach/egg mixture as your liquid instead of just eggs. Keep in mind that with the spinach addition, the dough will be a little more delicate. Once your dough is formed, let it rest for 30 minutes, covered, just as you did above.

5. While your pasta is resting, start with your sauce! Heat the olive oil in a saute pan and add the pancetta. Fry it to release some of its fat, then add the sliced onion. Continue to saute until the onion is soft, about 7 minutes. Stir in the peas and passata and season with some salt. Add a cup of water and then let the sauce reduce until it is thick, so that when you push your spoon through it, you can see the base of the pan slightly. Let this simmer while you finish your pasta. 

6. Back to your pasta! Once both doughs have rested, you can start to roll them out in to sheets (hurray!) Set up your pasta machine, attaching the roller handle and securing it to a work table. Set the rollers to the widest setting (0 in my case). Choose either the straw or the hay dough to work with first. Divide up the dough in to four or so equal pieces. You will work with one piece at a time; take a piece of dough and keep the others covered.

7. Flatten the piece of dough out so that it will go easily through the pasta machine. Roll the dough through, fold the strip of dough like and envelope and roll it again. If the dough feels too sticky, dust it with a little flour. NOTE: never ever put any flour directly onto the rollers! Repeat this folding and rolling process about 5 times. Now that you have kneaded your dough, start to roll it out; set the machine one notch down (from 0 to 1, in my case) and pass the dough ONCE through the rollers (no need to fold it anymore). Continue, rolling the dough once through each successive setting, until you reach 6. Do the same the three remaining pieces of pasta dough, cutting them in half once they are completely rolled out (to make them easier to handle, as the strip of pasta will be quite long!)

8. Using the fettuccine attachment of your pasta machine, cut each piece of rolled out pasta into fettuccine, dusting well with flour before you do so. Once cut, dust with a little more flour and form nests.

9. Repeat steps 7-8 with your second dough -- either straw or hay, whichever one you didn't already do! -- rolling and cutting out the pasta. 

10. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Drop in the pasta ribbons -- cook the spinach pasta and egg pasta separately, in two batches, as the spinach pasta cooks a little faster -- and cook for 2-3 minutes, testing for doneness for each. Use a strainer to remove the first and second batches of pasta, so you don't have to boil water twice for each one!

11. Keeping back a couple of ladles of pasta water just in case you want to loosen your sauce, toss both pastas with the sauce, adding a little reserved pasta water if you like to loosen it as necessary. Serve with plenty of grated Parmigiano and eat immediately.































Beans, Greens & Pasta Soup + the ultimate soup formula


A good, solid recipe in your repertoire -- one that has become a true standby -- means a couple of things. For starters, it's reliable, dependable, on call and ready to go whenever you need it. It's as comforting as your favorite sweater, the welcome answer whenever you've been asked to bring the dessert to your friend's dinner party with no notice or need to impress a guy who has pretty high standards when it comes to food (note: gnocchetti sardi worked pretty well for me here). You get the idea -- they're dishes that have got your back.

On the flip side, a solid recipe -- in its aforementioned sturdiness! -- also allows for flexibility and creativity, offering a good strong base upon which to experiment and make something slightly new. This never-fail Tomato, Butter, and Onion Sauce became a Tomato, Butter, and Fennel sauce with beautiful results; this A+ Lemon Ricotta Olive Oil Cake turned in to this Chocolate Orange Olive Oil Cake, for example; this solid Brownie Ciambellone is a riff on this White Chocolate Blueberry Cake; this foolproof egg pasta recipe has allowed me to make everything from ravioli to garganelli to fettuccine, my favorite pesto here is just as good with walnuts and Parmesan in the place of the Pecorino and almonds, this perfect-every-time Torta Caprese is excellent with hazelnut and vanilla instead of almonds and orange zest. You get the idea. 


But let's talk soup! I'm a fan -- it's the pinnacle of cozy, in my opinion -- and I've got a few on this blog, including these Roasted Tomato and this Butternut Squash. My favorite of all soups, however, is one made according to my Ultimate Soup Formula, or rather one that combines a mix of veggies, beans, greens, and any pasta you wish, however you wish. It started way back in the day with this Turkey, Spinach, and White Bean Soup, a recipe I came up with 6 years ago that then went on to evolve in to this Chickpea and Kale Soup, this Tomato and Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard, and a quick version of pasta e fagioli, among many others. 


It goes a little like this:

1. SOME VEGGIES! Start with veggies or your choosing, and saute them until softened in olive oil. I usually do a mix of carrot, celery, and onion, because that's what I like, but you could also do celery and onion, or just an onion, or even throw a potato in there if you'd like. You can also throw in a garlic clove for some flavor, or if you want, a little pancetta for extra flavor. Up to you!


2. A HANDFUL OF HERBS (if you want!) Once your veggies are cooked, you can also throw in herbs (a bay leave, rosemary, sage, all three, whatever you have). You can also add in a Parmesan rind at this stage if you have it -- I usually do, they add great flavor to soups -- or a little bit of tomato paste for flavor and color, or nothing at all. Salt and pepper is fine here too!


3. 2 CANS OF BEANS! Add in 2 cans of beans of your choice (chickpeas, lentils, borlotti, white beans, etc). As you can see in the recipe below, you can also mash these at a certain stage to change the texture of your soup; up to you if you want a thicker soup or a soupier (redundant?) one.

4. 6 CUPS BROTH! Add in about six cups (1500mL) broth of your choice, which can be either homemade or store-bought (in my case, store-bought). You can also sub some of this liquid with crushed tomatoes, to make a tomato-y soup (like this one).


5. 1/2 CUP OF PASTA! If you'd like to make your soup a little more substantial, add in about 1/2 a cup of dried small pasta, like ditalini, orzo, tortellini,  or anellini, or if you're me, maltagliati -- scraps of fresh pasta leftover from all your pasta making adventures -- that you have set aside to dry and then saved for occasions such as these (just me, I know).


6. 6 OUNCES OF GREENS! Up the nutrition factor in your soup with some greeeeens! Keep in mind that they cook down and shrink immediately when they hit the hot broth -- disappearing act! -- so if the quantity recommended below seems like a lot, it really isn't. I use spinach, kale, or swiss chard, but you use whatever you like.


7. CHEESE TO YOUR HEART'S CONTENT (if you want!) I personally like my soup topped with freshly grated Parmesan, but if you want to make this soup vegan -- I served this to a vegan friend who was quite happy -- leave the cheese out.


The soup I'm giving you here is my new favorite -- favorite yet? -- riff on my standby formula, and I've been making it on repeat this Winter. It's got creamy, flavorful borlotti (cranberry beans in English) which I recently discovered and have a lot more oomph than the chickpeas I used to favor (grazie C.T!). It's got notes of aromatic rosemary and sage, lots of virtuous-yet-tasty spinach, sweet carrots, and a dash of pasta (because it's me we're talking about) to round things out. It's the most interesting, craveable soup I've met yet, and while I'm willing to bet you'll agree -- I don't want to be presumptuous! I entrust my formula to you to use as you wish. Make the soup as written below if you like, or substitute in whatever you prefer and make a recipe that is all in your own. 

A couple of notes: As I've just finished saying above -- adapt this soup as you wish! If you want to add in meat like I did in the Chickpea and Kale or Turkey and Spinach versions, just stir it in already cooked once the soup is ready to go -- a little pancetta to start the soup off with along with the vegetables works well here too. 


BORLOTTI AND SPINACH SOUP 
Serves 3-4; feel free to double or up quantities as needed.

Ingredients:
Olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, cut in to rounds
2 sticks of celery, chopped
A sprig of rosemary
A bay leaf, a few leaves of sage
2 cans or jars of good-quality borlotti beans
6 cups (1500 mL) chicken or vegetable stock, store-bought or homemade if you've got it
1/2 cup dried small pasta
6 ounces (168 grams) baby spinach
Parmesan cheese rind (optional)

Parmesan cheese/bread for serving


Directions:
Heat some olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat (enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom of said pot) and saute the veggies of your choosing -- in this case onion, celery, and carrot -- until softened golden brown. Season the veggies with salt and pepper. Add the herbs or flavorings of your choosing -- in my case rosemary, sage, and bay leaf, as I usually have them on hand -- and then stir everything together and cook for few minutes.  

Next, add your cheese rind to the pot if you are using one, then rinse and drain your beans -- borlotti beans here! -- and add them too. Stir everything around for a minute and then add your liquids -- in this case I used veggie broth. Bring this mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the soup for 20 minutes.

Optional (though I never skip this step): using a ladle, remove two ladle-fuls of soup (more beans than broth) and place them in a bowl. Using a potato masher (or a food mill or food processor if you prefer -- just keep in mind these are hot liquids) mash until coarse. Set aside. 

Taste the soup and add more salt if necessary. Bring the soup to a boil again and add the pasta. Cook until the pasta is tender, stirring as you go, and adding a little more broth or even if the soup seems thick (I ended up adding another cup or so). Return your pureed soup to the pan and stir, then add in the greens -- spinach here! -- and cook until wilted. Taste the soup again to make sure your seasonings are sufficient, and serve with crusty bread and extra Parmesan over the top. 

Chocolate Mudslide Cookies

When going through the blog posts recently, I noticed something very, very grave. You may have noticed it too. I'm surprised I hadn't spotted it earlier.

What with my pasta frenzy, a stretch of experimentation with fried desserts, and most recently, my focus on posting slightly more conscientious recipes it has been a very, very long time since I've posted a recipe for something chocolate-y. In fact, my last chocolate-inclusive recipe was all the way back in August -- six months ago! -- when I posted about this Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream. And before that -- all the way back in March 2019, when I told you about this Chocolate Orange Olive Oil Cake. As a blog that prides itself on its sweets (the name of the blog is Pancakes & Biscotti, after all) this is not acceptable. I apologize. I will try to do better. I will! Starting with these abundantly chocolate-y cookies, okay?

This batch of  some-of-the-best-cookies-I've-ever-eaten-ever came along thanks to the wise purchase of Anne Byrn's newest cookbook, American Cookie, a bible of sorts for all of the cookies of my home country, covering everything from Virginia Tavern Biscuits to 1922 Girl Scout Cookies to Black and Whites, Snickerdoodles, and homemade Fig Newtons, among many other American cookie classics. If this rings a bell, it's probably because I've also talked about Anne's book American Cake -- which I mentioned here, and here! -- the frosted, layered predecessor to American Cookie. For a culinary nerd like myself, these books are pure gold, with lots of fun food facts and knowledge, plus -- and most importantly of all -- consistently excellent recipes, like these Chocolate Mudslides. So! Mudslide cookies were first created and coined in the early 90s by pastry Chef Robert Jorin, who entered them in a baking contest in Petaluma, California, and subsequently won (no surprise there). A decade later, celebrity chef Jacques Torres made his own version of these cookies on his TV show, upping the ante and adding a whopping 2 lbs of chocolate in to the dough, thus making Mudslides a household name -- indeed, many bakeries in the U.S have their own versions of this cookie. 
I wasn't quite sure where to begin with this cookbook -- a classic case of l'imbarazzo della scelta, as we say in Italian, i.e spoiled for choice -- so my sister, who loves to browse cookbooks, but not make any of the recipes in them (she has me for that) came to the rescue, narrowing down the list of options swiftly and choosing superbly (did you expect any less from my other half?!) Here's the breakdown: a good amount of baking powder make these Mudslides expand and puff up in the oven and then deflate, souffle'-like, creating a crackly, brownie-ish exterior and a delightfully soft and fudge-y interior (yes, you read that correctly: a cookie that is reminiscent of both a souffle' and a brownie). These are spectacularly, profoundly chocolate-y -- a combination of melted chocolate, cocoa powder, and chocolate chunks -- a chocothon interrupted only by the welcome crunch of a buttery pecan. This first batch received rave reviews by my sister and group of amiche on a rainy weekend hangout, meeting various different ends -- some were whisked away right off the baking sheet once cool enough to eat, others were enjoyed alongside mugs of tea, and still others were then tucked away into paper bags to be brought home for eating the next day or quite possibly just later that evening; the very few cookies that made it to my office the next day promptly vanished, with a colleague of mine aptly describing them as "un pedacito del cielo," a piece of heaven. Awww.

Bonus: if you're planning on celebrating Valentine's Day this week -- a holiday that expressly celebrates chocolate -- these would fit the bill perfectly, because something that you've baked up yourself will always be a bit more special than a box of (store-bought) chocolates or a bouquet of (thorny) roses, at least in my book. Bake up a batch of these for February 14th and watch as you keep finding other new holidays to make them for -- a half birthday! President's Day! 2020 Leap Year! it's only Tuesday and I need a cookie! You get the idea.

A couple of notes: I made a few changes to the recipe as originally written; for one, the recipe in American Cookie calls for 7 eggs, which seemed like a lot of eggs to me; I halved the recipe, using 3 large eggs, which worked fine. I swapped in pecans for walnuts, used only semi-sweet chocolate instead of a combination of bittersweet and unsweetened, added in some cocoa powder to up the chocolate factor, and left out the 1/2 (which would've been 1/4 teaspoon since I halved the recipe) espresso powder as I didn't have any on hand. These minor changes produced perfect cookies, but do as you like. Even by halving the recipe, I found that these made quite a few cookies, but I used an ice cream scoop to form them rather than the 1/4 cup that is written in the recipe originally. These cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days at room temperature and up to 6 months in the freezer. 

Looking for more chocolate-y recipes? I have these Brownie Cookies, this Brownie Pie, these Fudge Brownies, this Hot Fudge Sauce, this Pecan Chocolate Pretzel Pie, this Cioccolata Calda, this Chocolate Tartthis 1940s Wacky Chocolate Cake, this Wellesley Fudge Cake, this Chocolate Fudge Souffle Cake, these Chocolate Lava Cakes, this Chocolate Loaf Cake, and this German Chocolate Cake


CHOCOLATE MUDSLIDE COOKIES 
Recipe adapted from American Cookie, by Anne Byrn. Makes 20-22 cookies, depending on what size ice cream scoop you use.

Ingredients:

6.5 ounces (182 grams) semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons (56 grams) unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (225 grams) sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons (90 grams) flour
1 tablespoon (15 grams) cocoa powder
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (220 grams) chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1 1/4 cup (155 grams) pecans, chopped

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or 170 degrees Celsius, putting the oven rack in the middle of the oven.  In the meantime, melt the chocolate and butter together in a saucepan over low heat and set aside.

2. Place the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and beat with the electric mixer on medium-high speed until the mixture is light in color and texture, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla, then pour in a third of the melted chocolate, and beat on low speed until just combined. Add another third of the chocolate and mix to combine, then add the final third of the chocolate and mix briefly, about 10 seconds.

4. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Carefully turn the flour mixture onto the chocolate batter, and mix on the low speed until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and pecans. The dough may seem too soft to be cookie dough, but don't worry -- it will be fine!

5. With an ice cream scoop, drop six scoops of dough onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving some space between each. Bake the cookies in your pre-heated oven until opaque and firm on top but still soft, 8-10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let the cookies rest on the pan for 2 minutes, then transfer them to a rack to cool completely. Proceed in the same way to bake the rest of the cookies. Enjoy!
 









Classic Glazed Doughnuts

If you're in Italy this time of year, and if you too enjoy studying the displays in every bakery you go in to for your morning coffee (just me?) you'll have certainly noticed the abundance of fried sweets -- dolci fritti -- around lately, stacked high and proud, golden and sugar-dusted. This fried food frenzy is no coincidence, occurring (happily, and so very lucky for us) once a year in celebration of Carnevale, or rather the period leading up to martedi' grasso (Fat Tuesday) and subsequently Lent. The reasoning here is straightforward and sensible: if you'll theoretically be following Catholic protocol and fasting -- or at least giving up certain foods before Easter -- you might as well go all out beforehand and eat your desserts fried, yes? Italy's dolci carnevaleschi include all sorts of delightful fried treats with fun-to-say names, like bomboloni! crostoli! frappe! bugie! among many others, each more delicious than the next. 

So! As you may or may not recall, I've already dabbled with dolci carnevaleschi on this blog, mastering and devouring these castagnole (ricotta fritters rolled in sugar) and these zippulas (potato saffron fritters from Sardinia, likewise rolled in sugar). As this blog is a give and take of Italian and American recipes however, I got to thinking: what else could I fry -- in true Carnevale spirit -- that would put the (fried, bubbling, golden) spotlight on my home country rather than on my adopted one?!


I've said it before, here, but I'll say it again -- I love doughnuts. Love them.  Doughnuts and I go way back -- there was nothing more special than a stop at Dunkin' Donuts for a chocolate glazed when I was growing up -- and they're a nostalgic sweet I very much associate with home. Nowadays, my more mature taste buds and I prefer to get our doughnuts at PVDonuts when we're in Rhode Island -- pure doughnut witchcraft, I tell you -- and when we're not in the U.S, we have learned to make our own doughnuts at home (Rome is many things, but doughnut savvy it is not). 

Where to begin on these?! These doughnuts are marvelous. MARVELOUS. They're deeply golden and crisp but also light and airy and not at all heavy, a pillow of fried goodness, barely sweet and the perfect blank canvas for a robe of pearly white powdered sugar glaze -- and if you're living in a country where doughnuts are just not a thing, they are particularly exciting, a piece of home brought right in to your kitchen in Rome and in time for Carnevale, no less. I made more than 20 of these -- plus doughnut holes -- and the whole batch, the whole batch, disappeared or were whisked away in the span of an afternoon (my friends feel the same way about doughnuts as I do, apparently). Best of all, these aren't nearly as difficult to make as you might think -- throw together the ingredients for the dough, let it rest, roll out and shape said dough, let it rest again, and fry (each doughnut takes about 60 seconds to cook). Easy as pie (or doughnuts?)

Is it too early to say I've found my favorite recipe of 2020?!

A couple of notes on frying: 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 which can be found in most kitchenware shops (or Amazon.com) and don't cost much.

-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. 

-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 doughnuts from the oil, you can use a slotted spoon. If you want to be fancy, there are also bamboo skimmers that work well and are cheap, but I doubt most people have them in their kitchens.

A couple of more general notes: This is an excellent yeast doughnut recipe that can be dressed up any number of ways; as you can see from the photos, I glazed most of them, but then improvised and added some cocoa powder to the glaze to make a few chocolate frosted, and then filled a few with jam and rolled them in sugar. My next mission: to make homemade strawberry frosting. These are best eaten the day they're made, but aren't terrible the day after (just not as soft). According to the recipe this makes a dozen doughnuts, but I got a lot more out of this -- I would say about 20 doughnuts (I did also make some of these mini). 

Looking for other fried sweets? I've got these cannoli, these pumpkin doughnuts, these zeppole sarde, and these castagnole di ricotta


CLASSIC GLAZED DOUGHNUTS
Recipe from the New York Times. Makes 12 (see notes). 

Ingredients for doughnuts:
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) whole milk
2 1/4 teaspoons (7 grams) dry active yeast 
2 eggs
8 tablespoons (112 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 1/4 cups (552 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
2 quarts neutral oil, for frying 

Ingredients for glaze:
2 cups (240 grams) powdered sugar
4 tablespoons (60 mL) milk 

Ingredients for my improvisations:
1 generous tablespoon cocoa powder (to make chocolate frosting)
Strawberry jam (to make filled doughnuts)
Granulated sugar
Sprinkles 

Directions:
1. Heat the milk until it is warm but not hot, about 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) if you want to be very precise. In a large bowl, combine it with the yeast. Stir lightly, and let sit until the mixture is foamy, about 5 minutes.

2. Using an electric mixer or a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, beat the eggs, butter, sugar, and salt into the yeast mixture. Add half of the flour (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons, 225 grams more or less) and mix until combined, then mix int he rest of the flour until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Ad more flour, about two tablespoons at a time, if the dough is too wet. If you're using an electric mixer the dough will probably become too thick to beat; when it does, transfer it to a floured surface, and gently knead it until smooth. Grease a large bowl with a little oil. Transfer the dough to the bowl, and cover. Let rise at room temperature until it doubles in size, about one hour. 

3. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and roll it out to 1/2 inch thickness (dust the dough or the rolling pin with a little flour if the dough feels sticky). Cut out the doughnuts with round cookie cutters or a drinking glass and shot glass if that's easier (I used a cookie cutter and a pastry tip, which worked great). The larger cookie cutter should be about 3 inches in diameter. Flour the cutters as you go if necessary. Reserve the doughnut holes for frying; if you want to make jam filled or filled doughnuts, do not cut out the middle. Knead any scraps together and repeat the process, being careful not to overwork the dough and letting the dough rest in between. 

4. Put the doughnuts on two floured baking sheets so that there is plenty room between each one. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until delicate and puffy, about 45 minutes. If your kitchen isn't warm, heat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit at the beginning of this step, then turn off the eat, put baking sheets in the oven, and leave the door ajar. 

5. About 15 minutes before the doughnuts are done rising, put the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, and then heat the oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius) using a candy or frying thermometer. Meanwhile, line baking sheets with paper towels. 

6. Carefully add the doughnuts to the oil a few at a time (don't fry more than three at a time). When the bottoms are deep golden, about 45 seconds, used a slotted spoon to flip the doughnut and cook until deep golden all over. Do the same with the doughnut holes, keeping in mind they cook faster. Transfer the doughnuts to the prepared baking sheets. Repeat this process until all doughnuts have been fried, adjusting the heat as needed to keep the oil temperature at 375 degrees.

7. Once the donuts are cool enough to handle you can finish them off as you'd like. To make glazed doughnuts, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. Dip the doughnuts in on both sides, then place on a cooling rack (preferably with some paper under it to avoid any mess) and let the glaze harden and any excess glaze drip off. 

8. To make chocolate frosted doughnuts, make the glaze as above but add in some cocoa powder; to make filled doughnuts, fill a pastry bag with strawberry jam, poke a hole in the side of the doughnut, and fill accordingly; roll in granulated sugar. Yummm.