Carnevale is celebrated all across the Veneto in the run up to Lent. It is very much about excess in costume, colour and food in anticipation of the reflective and frugal period to come.
Similarly to Shrove Tuesday in the UK, Carnevale traditionally provided an opportunity to indulge in heavier and more decadent foods before the fasting of Lent began. Frittelle or fritole are Venetian doughnuts found in pasticceria all over the region at this time. They are served in a number of different forms, including Fritelle Veneziane, which are unfilled and have pine nuts and raisins stirred into the dough; as well as several filled varieties. Fillings include cream, zabaione, as less well as less common fillings such as apple, chocolate or pistachio cream.
On our last trip to visit family in Italy I learnt how to make them with Stefano's mum.
For the frittelle
150g plain flour
50g granulated sugar
oil for frying - groundnut oil is best
icing sugar to decorate
For the Crèma Pasticcera filling
4 egg yolks
1/2 litre milk
2 peels of lemon
Make the cream first to allow it plenty of time to cool.
1. Put all but a small part of the milk to warm over low heat, with the pieces of lemon peel (plus vanilla pod if using).
2.Lightly whisk the yolks in a medium mixing bowl followed by the sugar. Then sift in the flour and add the cold milk to loosen it, whisking gently all the while to ensure that no lumps form.
3. By this time, the milk on the stove will be about ready to boil. Discard the peel and vanilla and slowly whisk the warmed milk into the egg mixture.
4. Return the mixture to the pan and continue to stir gently and cook over low heat. As soon as it begins to reach a light simmer, stir constantly for two minutes, remove from the heat and you will see it has thickened.
5. Continue to mix for up to 20 minutes or until you are happy with the consistency.
5. Put the cream into to a bowl and let it cool; mixing every now and again as it cools to prevent a skin from forming.
Now you can begin the frittelle dough.
1. In a pan place water, sugar, salt and butter and bring to boil. Add flour all at once and mix well.
2. As soon as the mixture peels away from the sides of the pan, remove from the heat and place in a bowl to cool.
2. Once cooled add the eggs one at a time, mixing each one in well.
3. Begin to heat the oil. Test the temperature by putting a wooden skewer or similar in and checking for bubbles.
4. Use two teaspoons. One to pick up the dough and the other to smooth it into a ball shape then push quickly off the end of the spoon into the oil. The most aesthetically pleasing frittelle are perfectly round but I find it very difficult not to have a few fronds on the edges of mine!
5. The balls will puff up as they cooks. Turn in the oil to cook evenly.
6. When browned slightly remove with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen paper to absorb the oil. When cooled I also give each a gentle squeeze with the paper to dry them a little more.
Once everything has cooled enough to handle you can fill an icing bag with the cream and using the small nozzle inject some into each puff. You can be generous, they will puff up all little more and you can fill them until just before the cream bursts through. This part is great fun!
Sprinkle with icing sugar and you are ready to enjoy your frittelle as an after dinner sweet or with your morning espresso!