Today is Martedì Grasso the last day of Carnival all over the world. Except Milan, where it is just beginning.
My daughter was home sick last week for three days and as a result she missed a costume party she had really been looking forward to, although I am sure the
insane brave grandmother who yearly hosts this party for the whole class was not too upset to have a third grader less running around her apartment.
My daughter was a good sport about it all, despite her disappointment, and so I decided to surprise her and organize our own little Carnival party at home. My son's pre-school was closed for a few hours on the same day for meetings, so it seemed like the perfect way to fill an afternoon. We pulled out streamers and I set up a little make-up corner and we had ourselves a good time.
For it to be a real party, however, we needed snacks. I had some fruit juice stashed away but nothing even closely resembling Carnival treats so I decided to look up a recipe online. Carnival sweets are usually quite basic fried batters or doughs, recipes from a very long time ago when people did not have great means and when there were very few ingredients to choose from after a long winter. The most popular varieties are chiacchiere, tortelli and frittelle, although things get a bit complicated at this point.
As most things food in Italy (this recent post being just an example), every region and town has a different name (and often recipe) for the same thing. Milanese chiacchiere are called galani in Venice, bugie in Genova and other names elsewhere. Venetian frittelle are made out of doughnut batter with raisins and pine nuts mixed into it, but in Milan the batter is simple and they are often filled with chocolate cream or custard. Tortelli and zeppole are a part of the same family. Then there is pignolata (as my Sicilian mother in law calls it), little balls of biscuity fried dough bound together with honey that are called struffoli in Naples. Last but not least, let us not forget castagnole (called this way because they are reminiscent of castagne, the Italian word for chestnuts), which I often ate as a child in Venice.
I opted for these because they seemed like the quickest and easiest of all to make: there was no time for rising as I had a very hungry Ninja Turtle and rock star waiting for their snack.
While searching on the web, I discovered that in most places they are more akin to doughnuts, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and can be filled with a variety of creams like the abovementioned tortelli (or frittelle? or zeppole?).
Very different from what I remembered.
Very different from what I remembered.
Then I finally found a recipe for the castagnole that I grew up eating. It is, once again, a recipe from long ago, prepared with very simple and frugal ingredients. The castagnole were easy to make and they turned out exactly how I remembered them: not overly sweet, with a crumbly texture, almost like short crust pastry.
I think it took me 15 minutes tops to make them from scratch and the kids devoured them warm, proceeding to lick the confectioner's sugar off of their finger tips when they were done.
Ingredients (makes about 40)
50gr butter, softened
pinch of salt
350gr flour, approximately
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
oil for deep-frying
confectioner's sugar for garnish
In a stand mixer or in a bowl, mix the butter and sugar until light and airy. Add in the eggs one at a time. Add a pinch of salt and the flour a little at a time, making sure the batter does not turn too dry. Add the baking powder.
Start heating the oil, covering the bottom of the pot by about two inches.
Tear small pieces of the dough off and form little balls with your hands. When the oil is hot (you can check by throwing in a little piece of dough - it should not sink), deep fry the dough balls turning them every now and then until they are golden, about 3-5 minutes. They will start cracking a bit, that is normal. When they are ready, place them on a plate lined with paper towel to absorb excess oil. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and serve.