The smell of the ItalianAmerican Summer…Zeppole frying in oil..big vats of them…their steam wafting in every direction pulling you closer to the stand. You are mesmerized by the bobbing of the hand pulled balls of dough sizzling on their sides in the molten oil. You await, impatiently for the fresh hot balls to be drained. Then with the deft hands of a master the Zeppolaio places your hot zeppole into a paper bag, brown or white, and adds a blizzard of powdered sugar. Next they fold the bag and SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE and hand it over to you. Your heart is pounding (isn’t it??) and you reach with childlike anticipation at what’s waiting for you in that little sack. You reach in and without hesitation bite long and hard on one and for a moment you’re impervious to the scorching heat from the steam that’s scalding your tongue. Who cares? It’s worth it. Every blister is worth it soothed by the chilly feel of the powdered sugar with a sweet finish. Deep breath, of course not with a zeppole by your mouth or you’ll asphyxiate from the sugar dust…deep breath and then another bite, damn it just eat the whole thing. Now you’re happy. Sound familiar? Please don’t tell me this is a unique experience for me, lol. I KNOW you are with me. Now just so you know, I like them with powdered sugar which is how most street feast vendors make them, or with granulated sugar which is how many restaurants and home cooks make them. They are great both ways, infact they are awesome with a pinch of cinnamon in the coarser sugar. What’s a zeppole anyway?
Well it’s simply a regional Italian term for a type of fried dough THAT IS usually ring shaped or a roundish ball. Zeppole come in many varieties. This blog will make the one’s similar to the street feasts, but other zeppole contain lemon and ricotta in the dough, some use mostly eggs and pipe it through a bag to create a French cruller like small ring. That is a more specific type of Zeppole that is cut and filled with Italian pastry cream and topped with an Amarena cherry for March 19th’s St.Joseph Day. It’s a very Napoletana thing. There are also many savory types of zeppole. So take away from this that there’s more zeppole than the one you may be used to. In other parts of the USA Italian Americans call zeppole by different names, like Pizza Fritta, or Fried Dough. I’m from NYC so I use our regional term. Here’s a beautiful tray of zeppole hot out of the fryer at NYC’s San Gennaro Feast: Now today is Aug.15, it’s Ferragosto the Italian End of Summer celebration that coincides with the religious FESTA DELL’ASSUNTA, or Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The ASSUNTA is a national holiday in Italy and it’s a popular girls’ name. My great grandmother on my mom’s mom side was named Assunta… Assunta Prisco Melito, born in Castelbaronia, Avellino and died in Napoli. My grandma passed this name onto my mom, Assunta Scaramuzzi Battaglia, but she went by Susan as most first generationers did to fit in more in America. We used to celebrate her NAME DAY each August 15, here’s a picture from the 1976 celebration. A delicious Cassata from Alfonso’s in Staten Island helped make it a festive day! Zeppole are not specific to Ferragosto but they are fun and celebratory and you CAN make them in you own kitchen in a regular pan. Zeppole are also the traditional start off Christmas in Italy. They are made on December 8 for the Immaculate Conception ( Immacolata Concezione). Here’s how I make them…:
2 CUPS SIFTED FLOUR
1/2 TBS KOSHER SALT
1 1/4 CUP WARM WATER
2 PACKAGE YEAST
SOY, VEGETABLE OR PEANUT OIL at least 1 gallon
2 CUPS POWDERED SUGAR OR GRANULATED SUGAR
In a large stainless steel bowl add the water, salt , and yeast. Mix. Let this sit for at least 15 minutes. It should be frothy on top by then. Now add the flour and blend well until all the flour is incorporated. This is almost a bread dough BUT you are not going to tighten this up or knead the dough. Cover and let this rise for no less than 2 hours. You should have a yeasty aroma dough that’s not quite as tight as many bread doughs. Spongy and sort of loose. Heat in a deep high sided heavy flameproof pot or cast iron pan (pot better, less chance of oil spillage and the ensuing disaster and/or mess.) and fill 1/2 way with the oil you’ve chosen and place on medium to high heat. Most feasts use those large soybean oil containers. I use what I have on hand. When the temp gets up to 350 degrees F, or when you gently place a small ball of the dough into the oil and it immediately starts to sizzle frantically your oil is ready. Have a tray lined with paper towels ready to receive the hot zeppole. This recipe should make about 36. Using a damp hand pinch a small ball of dough and add to the hot oil. repeat until you are almost full in the pot, don’t overcrowd though. Flip them as they turn golden brownish. When both sides are the same color it’s time to gently remove them using a kitchen spider or similar long handled implement that lets the hot oil drip out. Remove the finished zeppole to the lined tray. Now continue to make more zeppole until you’ve used up all the dough. Here’s when you need a kitchen assistant, it’s sugar time. While the zeppole are still hot. add them to a bowl filled with 1/2 of the sugar. Roll the zeppole in batches in the sugar. THEN in a paper bag, add the rest of the sugar and shake the zeppole until they are all coated again, certainly you will do that in batches. If needed, use more sugar. EAT. delicious.
TIPS or SIDE NOTES: Every pan/pot and stove top are different so..while i’m giving you directions here PLEASE let your common sense guide you. You may have the oil too hot, or too cool. So you may need to play around till you get the hang of it. PLEASE DON’T GET DISCOURAGED!! If it’s your first time HOW ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO BE A PRO AT IT?? Be patient and you’ll find your way. As always, have fun cooking!!!