IN BOCCA AL LUPO!
Italian Week continues…. As does Hanukkah!
Italy is an extremely traditional country. Families still live on top of one another, sharing costs, babysitting duty, cases of tomatoes for the summer sauce-making ritual. Holidays, especially religious holidays, are made much of and are elaborate family affairs laden with tradition. Each city, each region pulls out all the stops, food shops and markets fill up with goodies, windows are decorated and, of course, bakeries fill their showcases with special treats found only at that time of year : Pan dei morti (Dead Man's Bread), also known as Ossi dei Morti (Dead Man’s Bones) on All Saint's Day, Cenci and Chiacchiere (or Chatterboxes, indicating the noise made while crunching them) and even Bugie ("Fibs") during Carnival, Frittelle on Saint Ambrose's Day and the list goes on and on.
Of course, in an extremely religious country like Italy, Christmas has a special importance and the Italians know how to do it right. Huge jars of Mostarda, glistening, brightly colored pickled fruit, a specialty of Cremona, pumpkin ravioli, mountains of creamy Almond Torrone, chestnuts roasting on darkened steel drums, and, of course, the Panettone, Pandoro, or Panforte take pride of place. Mountains of mouth-watering Cenci (“Rags”), twists of dough deep fried and dusted with sugar, welcome you in every bakery at this time of year. Italians love their fried dough treats, there seems to be a special one every holiday. And that is fine by me. Not only do I love them, can eat them by the dozens, but as I mentioned in my Cannoli post, fried foods are traditionally eaten during the week of Hanukkah by Jews all over the world, whether as potato latkes, fruit or cheese fritters, or donuts, plain or jelly-filled.
I had already decided to try a few new things for this Hanukkah season, more than just my usual potato latkes. I successfully adapted Italian Cannoli to Hanukkah, reasoning that both the fried shell and the cheese filling were traditional at Hanukkah. I have never made donuts and, this year, was determined to try.
A tub of leftover ricotta from the Cannolis kept staring at me every time I opened the refrigerator, just begging to be made the most of. Most fortunately, I stumbled across a beautiful and quite appropriate recipe in my new Nigella Lawson cookbook Feast : Baci di Ricotta, “Ricotta Kisses”. Loved it! Baci are small fried donuts, what we would call donut holes, the main ingredient being ricotta. It turned out to be the simplest of simple recipes, blended together in the blink of an eye, then just dropped by teaspoonfuls into heated oil. Sprinkled with powdered or confectioner’s sugar or, as I did, rolled in a cinnamon-sugar mix fresh out of their oil bath.
I saw no need to change the recipe beyond the sugar coating. It is perfect. I took her advice and made Bocconcini – “Tiny Mouthfuls”. This is highly recommended as the centers of most of the holes were creamy, and I imagine attempting anything more than a teaspoonful would give you donuts not quite cooked through. These should definitely be eaten fresh and hot, but then, who could keep themselves from eating the entire plateful of these incredible, cinnamon-kissed mouthfuls, one after another, standing at the counter, just as soon as they are ready? I had to keep mighty control over myself so that everyone else could taste!
Ingredients for 30
1 cup (250 g/ml) ricotta
½ cup (50g) flour
1 ½ tsps baking powder
pinch of salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbs sugar
½ tsp vanilla
vegetable oil for frying
2 Tbs sugar + ½ tsp ground cinnamon blended together for coating
Put the ricotta and the eggs in a medium-sized bowl and whisk together until well blended and creamy.
Add the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla and whisk again until smooth.
Heat the oil in a deep-fryer or large pot to a depth of about ¾ inch. When a pinch of the dough dropped into the oil sizzles and then cooks golden brown, the oil is hot enough to cook the Bocconcini. Drop the dough in by teaspoonfuls, only about 6 at a time. They cook very quickly and you want to have only a manageable amount in to take care of.
When you drop the dough in, they will sink to the bottom at first, but very quickly they will pop up to the top. Flip the Bocconcini over a few times to allow even browning.
Once they puffed up and are a deep golden brown all over, then lift them out of the hot oil and let drain on paper towels.
While they are still hot, and as the next batch starts to cook, toss them quickly in the cinnamon-sugar mixture that you have placed in a bowl. Scoop them up out of the sugar and pile them on a serving platter.
Continue working quickly, but diligently, until all of the Bocconcini are fried, drained and coated with the cinnamon-sugar.
Serve hot! And do try and make a valiant effort to share them.
IN BOCCA AL LUPO (as the Italians say) for the New Year! In the Mouth of the Wolf – Good Luck! One Bocconcino – or Bacio - at a time!