THE ART OF ITALIAN DINING
It’s Sunday night and I am writing about fritters.
Maybe it is the incombent Carnival or maybe my tummy is just hungry for those airy, tart, beignet-like bites of heaven.
But tonight, Sunday night is about Fritters. Ricotta fritters.
On the cool pre-lenten nights leading up to Ash Wednesday, the festivities of Carnevale, or mardi gars as it’s known in the U.S., explode throughout italy, most famously in Venice. The extravagant celebrations flow with Prosecco, and frittelle are piled high in the city’s caffes.
There’s no getting around it; January and February are dreary months in much of Italy, especially the Centro-Nord. Little wonder then that people would devise all sorts of pastries and treats to add some cheer to their days, and a holiday too. Carnevale, or Shrove Tuesday is the occasion for wild parties. On the cool pre-lenten nights leading up to Ash Wednesday, the festivities of Carnevale, or mardi gars as it’s known in the U.S., explode throughout italy, most famously in Venice (the Venetians, who celebrated most of all, used to say that anything done while hiding one’s face behind a mask didn’t count…).
Making these tasty little fritters brings back fond memories of time spent in my grandmother’s kitchen watching her fry scraps of dough until they were golden brown, dusting them with sugar and serving them to us warm. These ricotta fritters, are crisp and fluffy, super easy and quick to make, and taste wonderful!
They’re best served warm, dusted or rolled in confectioners’ sugar or a cinnamon/sugar mixture, or dipped in jelly, honey or chocolate. Here I serve them with a rum chocolate sauce.
I totally sold you, didn’t I?
RICOTTA CHOCOLATE CHIP FRITTERS
Yields about 15 fritters
Mix the ricotta cheese, mini chocolate chips and flour, sugar, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest until well combined.
Prepare a sauté pan with light olive oil and place over medium high heat. Using two tablespoons, scoop mixture into individual fritters and place into hot oil. Let the fritters cook until they are crisp and brown on the outside. Use a spider to pull them out of the hot oil.
As they cool, coat with sugar. Serve and eat warm!
BITTER CHOCCOLATE RUM SAUCE
Combine the chocolate and rum in a heatproof bowl. If using a standard bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (without a percentage on the label), add 1/2 cup of the half-and-half; if using a chocolate labeled 66% to 70% cacao, add 1 cup of the half-and-half.
Set the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water (or set the bowl directly in a wide skillet of barely simmering water); stir frequently until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Note: A high-percentage chocolate may cause the sauce to look curdled. If this happens, whisk in a little more half-and-half or some sugar or both.
Carnival is a Christian celebration leading up to the period of Lent and concluding on Fat Tuesday. Celebrated throughout Italy, Carinval is most actively and colorfully celebrated Venice and Viareggio. Carnival festivities have very ancient religious origins and are probably even tied to ancient Pagan rites, when wizards wore masks to scare off evil spirits. However Carnival is more commonly associated with the huge parties that used to take place in Ancient Rome between October and March in honor of the father of all the gods: Saturn.
During these parties called saturnali, slave-owners and slaves would switch roles and a “King of the Party” would be elected. This tradition is still carried out in some parts of Italy. According to Livio, born in 263 AC, the festivities often lasted up to fifteen days. It is precisely this Pagan tradition that was absorbed by the Christian religion, toning down the celebration.
During the Middle Ages, Carnival came to be known as the “party of the crazy people,” during which time exaggeration was the name of the game. People generally ate huge meals, gearing up for Lent. Also during the Middle Ages, the habit of cross-dressing and putting on costumes to look like famous people took hold.
The height of the Carnival celebrations took place in Florence during the Renaissance, when the Medici family, would organize trionfi, or huge parades and masked balls.