How to celebrate Carnival like an Italian? Should you wear ornate costumes, head for a ball in Venetian surroundings, join a parade of elaborate carts? Or maybe bow to the tradition that says that a Carnevale ogni scherzo vale – all is fair during carnival- and throw pranks at your friends?
Indeed, you can do all of the above – and if you are in an Italian city with a strong carnival tradition you definitely should – but I think that for the average Italian nothing conjures the idea of carnival more than typical carnival sweets. Surprise surprise, we have a special Italian food for carnival too!
My personal favourite, among carnival sweets, is the sweet and aromatic fried dough that in Rome goes by the name of frappe. When I was a child, le frappe were always a reason for celebration in my house. Since carnival lasts for such a short while, you would really only be able to eat them for a few days every year and when the time finally came, the anticipation built by the need to rest the dough before cooking them was almost unbearable: that half an hour of rest felt like a lifetime!
The person who made frappe for me was my old childminder (la tata), a formidable woman from Prato who was, among other things, a great cook of Tuscan specialties. She used to call le frappe with their Tuscan name, i cenci and this was a reason for an endless squabble between me and her. As a child, I wasn’t fascinated by the regional names of things and considered any variation from what I would consider the norm pointless and a bit irritating. I guess it was a good thing that I didn’t now about the extent of the possible variations of that name. Are you ready? In Italy, le frappe go by the following names:
bugie, cenci, frappe, sfrappe, sfrappole, manzole, crostoli, galani, intrigoni, lattughe, fiocchi, fiocchetti.
And I am sure this list is not even exhaustive!
No matter how you call them, le frappe are something you should definitely try over the carnival in Italy, either in their original fried form or the more modern interpretation that wants them baked instead.
If you want, you can even try your hand at making them and below I will give you a recipe you can start from. But before you get stuck in, just a word of warning: this recipe is my reconstruction of how la tata used to make them, but it is not totally accurate. La tata was one of those cooks who would not ‘do’ measurements: she never cooked with a scale and never wrote down her recipes, her instructions being more along the lines of ‘some flour, some eggs, a bit of sugar’. The result is VERY good, but if you have a different recipe passed down by previous generations, let me know and I’ll be happy to try!
Italian food for the carnival: le frappe
300 gr flour, 30 g butter, 3 tablespoons of dusting sugar, 1 eggs, orange zest, milk (enough to make the dough come together, no more), olive oil for frying. Some people add some liquor too, grappa mostly, but la tata’s were always children friendly!
Pour the flour onto a clean work surface, make a well and put in all the remaining ingredients. Work well with your hands until you have a smooth, elastic dough that is not sticky. Put it aside, cover with a damp cloth and leave it to rest for about 30 mins. When this time has passed, use a rolling pin to make a very thin sheet of pastry (the thinner the better) and cut it in long strips, as if to form ribbons.
Take a good quality frying pan and heat up enough olive oil for shallow frying. When the oil is hot, shake excess flour off the frappe and put them in the pan. Cook on one side, then turn and repeat the process until both sides are golden and crisp (it shouldn’t take more than few minutes). Dry with kitchen paper and serve hot or cold, sprinkled with dusting sugar. Enjoy!
Have you ever had frappe and have a bakery you know you think I should try? Or a good recipe? Then let me know!