During the past nine months that my blog was being re-designed, I spent a lot of time reading about Italian food. I cooked a lot too, perfecting recipes to share here, jotting down notes in my Moleskine notebook along the way. I discovered a serious love for researching the history and origins of Italian recipes. I’m not about to become a food historian anytime soon, but since there is still so much about Italian food that I don’t know, I’m having fun learning everything I can. Food history also takes shape in the form of our personal stories surrounding the recipes we make and eat, and I’m looking forward to sharing my own stories here in my bright, new space.
I grew up knowing these fried pastry ribbons by two different names: my maternal grandmother called them frappe and my paternal grandmother called them crostoli. Recipes for these delicate, fried morsels vary slightly by region and household. Some people use lard in the dough, others use butter, while still others omit the fat altogether. There is usually a splash of some kind of alcohol added to the dough for both moisture and acidity to make the dough more tender (similar to adding white vinegar or vodka to pie crust). I remember my maternal nonna using white wine, but I don’t remember what my paternal nonna used. If I had to guess, she may have used grappa since she was from the north-eastern region of Veneto where some of the best grappa is distilled. Rum, brandy or anise liquor can also be used, and the dough can be lightly perfumed with freshly grated lemon zest.
Fried pastry ribbons go by many different names depending on the region of Italy you find yourself. Throughout the regions of Lazio and Le Marche, you will hear them referred to as frappe, sfrappe, or sfrappole. Loosely translated, the words mean “fringes”. In Veneto and Trentino, they’re known as crostoli or galani. In Piemonte and parts of Liguria, they’re called bugie (“lies”). In Toscana, they’re referred to as cenci, and in Campania, they’re known as chiacchere (“chatter”) or chiacchere della nonna (“grandmother’s chatter”), by far my favorite descriptor for these treats. For as many names exist for these, there are even more shapes. My maternal grandmother used her pasta cutter to cut long strips of dough which she knotted into bows. My paternal grandmother also used a pasta cutter to shape hers into large squares and rectangles. I decided to make mine rectangular and bite size. There really is no right or wrong way to shape fried pastry ribbons. Just do an image search for crostoli on Google and you’ll see what I mean.
Fried pastry ribbons are traditionally eaten throughout Italy in the days preceding Lent and especially on martedi grasso (Fat Tuesday), but they can be made for any celebratory occasion. I think the launch of the new Flavia’s Flavors qualifies as a celebratory occasion, don’t you?! As if lightly sweetened fried dough isn’t delicious enough on its own, the fried pastry ribbons are given a generous dusting of powdered sugar which makes them look both festive and irresistible. If you eat these in someone’s home, they will most likely be piled high on a large platter or in an ample serving bowl. If you buy them out and about in Italy, you’ll get them piled into a paper vessel of some kind. I once read that many Italians believe in eating these treats neatly so as not to leave any stray crumbs or powdered sugar on your shirt, but where’s the fun in that? As far as I’m concerned, you’re not eating them right if you don’t have the evidence on your clothes.
Fried Pastry Ribbons
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
¼ cup butter, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 Tablespoons dry white wine
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
2-3 cups vegetable oil, for frying
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 1-2 minutes. Add in the egg, wine and salt and mix to combine. It’s OK if the mixture looks lumpy or curdled; this is normal. On low speed, gradually add in the flour and mix until the dough comes together. If the dough looks too dry, add in water 1 Tablespoon at a time until it holds together. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured board and knead gently a few times. Shape the dough into a disk, cover it with a clean dish towel, and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Flour the board lightly and cut the disk of dough in half. Roll out the dough halves to ⅛-inch thickness and use a knife (or zig-zag edge pasta cutter) to cut the dough into your desired shape: strips (for knotting), rectangles, squares, etc. Place the cut dough pieces on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, making sure they don’t touch.
Line a baking sheet with 3 layers of paper towel and set it near the stovetop. Heat a heavy-bottom pot, Dutch oven, or cast iron skillet over medium heat and add in the oil. If using an oil/candy thermometer, heat the oil to 350℉. Fry the pastry ribbons in batches, making sure not to over-crowd the pot with too many pieces of dough (they should be allowed to float around freely). Fry the pastry ribbons until they are a deep golden color on one side, then use a fork or small spatula to flip them over to brown on the other side. Use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer the pastry ribbons to the paper towel-lined baking sheet. Repeat this procedure until all the pieces of dough have been fried.
Note: Always monitor the temperature of the oil and adjust the heat under the pot as necessary to prevent the oil from scorching.
Place the cooled pastry ribbons on a large platter or in a shallow serving bowl and dust them generously with powdered sugar. Serve at room temperature.
Storage: Place the pastry ribbons on a plate and cover lightly with foil. Eat within 2-3 days.