When the famous frittelle arrived, the girls were elated, and so was Pietro, they fought over them. Only then Nino turned to me.
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante
It's only been a couple of months since my recipe from My Brilliant Friend. You'll have to excuse my returning so quickly to Ferrante's Naples - I sped through the final two books in her Neapolitan series and have thought of them almost constantly since. If you haven't yet picked them up, I (once again) can't recommend them highly enough.
Elena (Greco - the character, rather than Ferrante - the writer) now feels like a friend I've had for years. I watch her make decisions and despair or rejoice at the outcomes. Her devastating and brutally honest account of motherhood in a male-dominated world, and its limiting effect on her creative career, feel more raw and illuminating than anything else I've read on the subject. Her friendship with Lila continues to intrigue me, and is one of the richest relationships I've ever come across in fiction. It is perhaps only in the final book I felt that I finally understood what Elena has meant to Lila through their diverging and converging lives.
The meal above happens at a precipice of sorts, a series of interactions with Nino - childhood crush and eventual adult love - that significantly alter the course of Elena's life. Traditionally served during Venetian celebrations, most commonly at Carnival, these frittelle (also frittolle or fritole, depending on the dialect) suggest a special occasion. Perhaps that's how Nino sees this dinner with Elena (despite the presence of her family), or perhaps he's just trying to get her daughters on side. Whatever the motivation, the plates of frittelle that so delight Dede and Elsa made my mouth water. I had to give them a try.
Luckily, I had an excuse: it's been an eventful and exciting start to the year so far, with lots of thrilling opportunities on the horizon. More details to come, but for now I will be enjoying frittelle with a glass of prosecco. I encourage you to find a reason to do the same.
A little note on the recipe below. I made a few batches of these, over the space of a couple of weeks. Recipes I read varied wildly, from liquid heavy ones (milk and water were both options) to flour heavy ones. Consistency obviously varied too - some dough was able to be rolled into balls, and others needed to be spooned out. It seems that each family has their own variation. I'm not sure that these are the most authentic, but they're the ones I loved! Light, spongy, and crisp on the outside.
Makes plenty - around 40, depending on their size
40ml sherry (or grappa, if you like - I don't, I'm afraid)
250ml whole milk
25g fresh yeast (or 10g dried active yeast)
30g caster sugar
200g plain flour
400ml flavourless oil (vegetable is good)
2tbsp icing sugar
1. Put the raisins into a bowl with the sherry and leave overnight. If, like me, you're not organised enough to do things the night before, put the raisins in a saucepan with the sherry, place over a low heat and infuse for five minutes without letting the liquid boil. Remove from the heat and leave for a further hour minutes while the batter proves.
2. Warm the milk to blood temperature (if you put your finger into it, it should feel neither hot nor cold) in the small saucepan. Remove it from the heat, pour into the measuring jug and add the yeast. If you're using dried yeast, leave for ten minutes until frothy on top.
3. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until light and frothy. Measure out the flour. Alternate adding the milk/yeast mixture, and the flour and salt, to the beaten eggs and sugar. Whisk the batter together then cover with cling film and leave to rise for an hour.
4. After an hour, the batter should be light and very foamy. Heat the oil in a large saucepan to 160C. If you don't have a thermometer, don't panic - this isn't sugar work and these frittelle are quite forgiving. Basically, your oil needs to be hot, and you'll work out just how hot that is once you start dropping the batter in.
5. Once the oil is hot, carefully fold the raisins into the batter. You will knock some of the air out of the batter as you fold, which is precisely what you want. To test the temperature of the oil, drop a small amount of the batter into it. If it floats to the top of the oil, puffs and then becomes golden in around 30 seconds, the oil is ready.
6. Take a heaped teaspoon of the batter over to the oil and push it off the spoon quickly using the second spoon. If you dribble the batter in, or drop it off the spoon too slowly, you won't get round frittelle; you'll end up with a bit of a squiggly mess instead. Don't despair if you do, as a squiggly mess tastes just as good. Many of ours looked like creatures from the deep, their long tentacles reaching through hot oil. Practice is the key here; it gets easier the more you do.
7. Fry a few frittelle at a time, as many as can comfortably fit in your saucepan with room to bob around a bit. Once they are golden underneath, give them a little nudge on top. They'll flip over and cook on the underside. Once they are golden all over, remove them from the oil, let them drain a little from the slotted spoon and then transfer to a plate lined with kitchen towel. Test the first couple to ensure they are cooked in the middle. If they are brown on the outside and raw in the middle, your oil is too hot - turn the heat down a little.
8. Once you have used up all the batter, transfer the fritole to a serving plate and dust with icing sugar. Pop a bottle of prosecco. Celebrate.