It’s Carnevale! This period of indulgence and carousal is one of the most festive and loved of Italian holidays.
The start and end of Carnevale varies from nation to nation, but in Italy, the birthplace of Carnevale, festivities begin in early February and culminate during the week between Martedì grasso (Mardi Gras in French, Fat Tuesday in English) and the Christian holiday of Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent. Grasso, gras, Fat: all refer to the rich and plenteous foods eaten during those days leading up to Lent, when the gluttony and revelry of Carnevale must be replaced by penance and austerity.
In Italy, Carnevale is celebrated with parades, masquerade balls, entertainment, music, and parties. Mischief and pranks are all part of the fun. As a child, Stefano remembers having great fun with sneezing powder, itching powder, and stink bombs, giving life to the saying A Carnevale Ogni Scherzo Vale. Children dress up in costumes and make the rounds to parties and the homes of friends and relatives, collecting sweets at each stop.
Our nephew, dressed up for Carnevale
Carnevale is not just for children, though. Celebrations are held across Italy, the most famous held in the Tuscan sea-side town of Viareggio with its promenade of paper-mache floats known as the Passeggiata a mare; in Ivrea, home to the annual battaglia delle arance (Battle of the Oranges); and of course, Venezia, where over three million visitors per year wander the city’s waterways, many sporting elegant and mysterious leather, glass and porcelain masks.
In households across Italy, people indulge in frappe, castagnole, and other homemade treats unique to Carnevale. Made of a simple dough, fried to a golden color in hot oil, and sprinkled with powdered sugar, these fritters are the epitome of Carnevale.
Castagnola means “chestnut,” and in fact, castagnole bear resemblance to chestnuts, before the shed their shell. They are also similar to what in American culture are known as donut holes. They are usually dusted with powdered sugar, or alternatively with regular sugar, or covered in a sugar glaze.
200 g (2 and 1/2 cups) flour
16g (1 Tbs.) Pane degli Angeli, or use baking powder instead
50 g (1/4 cup) sugar
pinch of salt
40g (1 and 1/2 Tbs.) butter
1 tsp. vanilla
zest of one lemon
Frying oil (peanut, canola, etc.)
Cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixture. Add the eggs one at a time, and mix well. Stir in the lemon zest. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, Pane degli Angeli (or baking powder) and salt. Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the butter/sugar/mixture. Mix until the dough comes together into a soft, sticky ball. If you need to add more flour, do so, but take care to not overdo.
Sprinke flour onto a large cutting board or other smooth work surface. Take a small section of dough and use your hands to roll it into a long cylindrical tube about 2 cm (just under an inch) thick. Cut small nibs of dough and use your hands to roll them into small balls. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Heat the oil in a deep pan. Test that it is hot enough by tossing a small piece of scrap dough into it. The oil should sizzle and small bubbles should form around the edges of the dough.
Place as many balls of dough as fit into the hot oil. They will float to the top, so once the underside is golden brown, use a utensil to turn them over. When both sides are cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them to cool onto paper towels.
Once all of the castagnole are cooked, arrange them onto a serving plate and using a metal strainer to achieve an even coating, dust with powdered sugar. They are best enjoyed warm, but castagnole will keep for a day or two in an airtight container.
Frappe are light, thin strips of deep-fried dough. Sometimes the dough is tied in a knot before frying, in which case they are called chiacchere. In all cases, the fritters are enjoyed sprinkled with powdered sugar.
250 g (2 and 3/4 cups) flour
3 g (3/4 tsp.) Pane degli Angeli, or use baking powder instead
35 g (1/8 cup, heaping) sugar
a pinch of salt
15 g (1 and 1/2 Tbs.) butter
1 tsp. vanilla
12 ml (1 Tbs.) Grappa or other liquor such as brandy or rum
Frying oil (peanut, canola, etc.)
Mix together the flour, Pane degli Angeli (or baking powder, if you are using that instead), sugar and salt. Cube the butter and add it to the dry ingredients, along with the two eggs and vanilla. Mix by hand, or with the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. The dough will be dry and will require approximately 10 minutes of kneading to come together. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rest in a cool place or in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
If you have a pasta machine, you can use it to press the dough into thin strips. If not, you can roll the dough out. If you are using a pasta machine, cut off a small section of the dough, flatten it out between your hands, and pass it though the widest opening possible. Then, close the gap a notch or two, and pass the dough through again. Repeat this process until you have passed the dough through the machine’s smallest opening.
If you roll the dough out with a rolling pin, do so with a section of dough at a time, rolling until the dough is just a few millimeters (just under 1/6th inch) thick. The thinner the dough, the lighter and flakier the frappe will be.
If you have one, use a fluted pastry wheel to cut the pressed dough into uniform strips. They can be of any length and width you like. We made ours about 2.5 cm (1 inch) wide by 15 cm (6 inches) long.
Heat the oil in a deep pan. Test that it is hot enough by tossing a small piece of scrap dough into it. The oil should sizzle and small bubbles should form around the edges of the dough.
Place the strips of dough into the hot oil. You can fry several at once, depending on the capacity of your pot. Be ready to turn them over as soon as one side becomes brown, and remove them from the oil once the second side is done. They cook very fast! Remove from oil and place onto paper towels to cool.
Once all of the frappe are cooked, arrange them onto a serving plate and using a metal strainer to achieve an even coating, dust with powdered sugar.
We hope you enjoy castagnole and frappe as much as Luca does!