Bow Ties? Wandi? Cenci?–A Sweet Crackly Holiday Recipe

Bow Ties? Wandi? Cenci? Bugia? Delicate fried sweet ribbons
Bow Ties? Wandi? Cenci? Bugia? Delicate fried sweet ribbons

I love these delicate fried dough ribbons that show up on the table at the end of the meal this time of year.

I have 2 problems with them though. I don’t know what to call them and once I start eating them I can’t stop.

We called them bow ties or cenci (rags) in Jersey, wandi (gloves) in Rhode Island and bugia (liar’s knot) here in San Francisco. My favorite name is chiacchiere (to chatter) for the noise they make frying in the hot oil.

Call them what you want just make them for your table. I’m making extra so I can bring a plate of bow ties along when I visit friends this holiday season.

The simple dough is made in a food processor, kneaded briefly by hand and then rolled out with a rolling pin or put through a pasta machine to achieve a thin dough. I cut the ribbons with my ravioli cutter. Tie the ribbons in a bow and fry them quickly in hot oil until they are golden. Dust the bow ties with lots of powdered sugar all over.

The nutty bow ties shatter with each bite, light as air and just sweet enough for the end of a big meal with an espresso.

Be careful eating these crispy puffs so you don’t get powdered sugar all over your holiday outfit.

Some put honey I bow ties. I don’t. I reserve the honey for Struffoli, Holiday Honey Balls. These sweet nuggets are another staple at a Neapolitan Christmas table.

Buon appetito! Buon Natale! Happy Holidays to all.

Crispy Bow Ties, Wandi, Cenci Holiday Cookie Recipe
 
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Fry up a batch of these light, crispy holiday cookies for your table or to bring as a gift when visiting friends and family this year,
Author:
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 20
Ingredients
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • lots of powdered sugar for dusting
Instructions
  1. Put the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to aerate the dry ingredients.
  2. With the machine running add the eggs
  3. The dough is ready when it balls around the blade.
  4. Turn out the dough to a lightly floured board and knead until a soft dough forms and it doesn't stick to the work surface .
  5. Wrap the dough in plastic film and let it sit for about 15 minutes.
  6. Unwrap the dough and cut the ball into thirds.
  7. Work with one-third at a time and keep the others wrapped in plastic.
  8. With a rolling pin roll out the dough to about a 1/16th inch thickness or use a pasta machine to get the right thickness. I roll it through to the thinnest setting for crispy ribbons.
  9. Using a fluted pasta wheel cut the dough into 1-inch strips and cut the strips into 7-inch lengths.
  10. Pull the strips gently until they're about 9-inches long and tie the strip into a loose bow and set aside on parchment paper or a floured kitchen towel. (You want thin strips so the bows turn out light and crackly when you bite into one. If you don't want to make bows just put a small slit in the ribbon.)
  11. Put a couple of inches of oil in a deep pot and heat the oil to 375 degrees.
  12. Drop in a few bow ties at a time, turning them so that they are golden all over.
  13. Put the bows on paper towel to drain.
  14. When ready to serve sprinkle the bow ties with lots of powdered sugar. (Don't be skimpy with the powdered sugar dusting. There's not much sugar in the dough so the dusting adds most of the sweetness to the bows.)
  15. This recipe will yield about 5 dozen bow ties. (Keep them in an airtight container and they will last for days. Don't dust with powdered sugar until you're ready to serve some.)

 

Fried Fritters (Pasta Cresciuta)

Savory Fritters with Anchovy & Sweet Fritters with Powdered Sugar
Savory Fritters with Anchovy & Sweet Fritters with Powdered Sugar

Frying is an important Neapolitan cooking technique practiced by generations of southern Italian-Americans.

One of my fans wrote that he continues his wife’s grandmother’s Christmas tradition by making savory fried fritters with an anchovy filet in the middle for the family to enjoy every year. I was inspired to fry up some.

Savory or sweet, I ate a lot of these fried dough balls growing up in Jersey. We’d crowd around the stove as my Mom pulled the golden orbs out of the frying pot to drain on a big brown paper bag and grabbed one as soon as she set them down. I get some anytime I’m on the east coast and I make them often in my kitchen.

Besides their proper name, pasta cresciuta, southern Italian-Americans in Jersey call these fried fritters zeppole. The fried dough is omnipresent at Italian street fairs dusted with powdered sugar.

In Rhode Island they dust them with powdered sugar and call them doughboys. Mix fresh chopped clams into the risen batter and Rhode Islanders call them clamcakes. When I’m in Point Judith I devour Iggy’s clamcakes with a bowl of chowder and finish the meal with a couple of doughboys for dessert.

I love frying and I’ve been doing a lot of it over the holidays. Frying is a quick cooking method that requires your full attention and you’ll get better at it over time. Just be patient and make sure that the oil in your frying pot is always at 375 degrees.

I like both savory and sweet pasta cresciuta. On the savory side, I enjoy mixing in chopped anchovies, chopped squash blossoms or chopped fresh clams after the batter rises. On the sweet side, I just fry up the fritters and shower them with confectioner’s sugar. The irregular golden fritters have a crispy exterior and are light and airy inside.

Pasta cresciuta should be eaten hot out of the oil, as soon as they drain a bit. The fritters don’t hold up well and are not not as tasty when reheated.

These fried yeast fritters are very different from sweet custard filled zeppole enjoyed in Campania, the region around Naples. Watch me make zeppole di San Giuseppe where I fry some and bake some.

But be forewarned, the cooked dough in the zeppole di San Giuseppe episode is not the same as the batter I use in this recipe. The one I use here is an uncooked batter that resembles a very loose or wet pizza dough.

Here are a couple of my other favorites that I fried up this holiday season, struffoli and calamari, one sweet and one savory.

Happy frying. Buon appetito!

Fried Fritters (Pasta Cresciuta)
 
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Author:
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 2½ teaspoons yeast (one package)
  • 2 cups warm water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2½ cups all purpose flour
  • Safflower or your favorite frying oil
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, using a fork or whisk dissolve the yeast in ½ cup of warm water (about 100 degrees), mix in a ½ cup of flour and let it stand for about 15 minutes until it starts to bubble up.
  2. Add the remaining 1½ cup of warm water and the salt and mix well.
  3. Add ½ cup of flour to the bowl and mix well.
  4. When the flour is well incorporated add another ½ cup of flour to the bowl and mix well.
  5. Add the last ½ cup of flour a little at the time and mix well. You may not have to use it all. You want to end up with a soft, smooth dough that is on the wet side and very elastic.
  6. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for about an hour until the batter is bubbling and double in volume.
  7. (If your making savory fritters, add chopped fresh clams, chopped anchovy or chopped squash blossoms to the bowl and mix them well into the batter.)
  8. Heat about 3 inches of oil in a deep wide pot or cast iron skillet to 375 degrees. (I use a candy thermometer hung on the side of the pot to ensure the oil stays at 375 degrees while frying.)
  9. Drop an overflowing tablespoon of the batter into the hot oil. Add more tablespoons of batter to the oil but don't overcrowd the pot.
  10. Move the fritters around so they have plenty of room to fry.
  11. When the bottom side of the fritters frying on top of the oil start to turn golden, flip them over and fry the other side.
  12. When the fitters are golden all over drain the fritters on paper towel.
  13. Dust sweet fritters with powdered sugar and savory fritters with a sprinkle of sea salt and serve immediately.

 

Cavati (Cavatelli) with Vodka Sauce & with Broccoli Rabe

Rhode Island friends are in town and we we’re making 2 classic Italian-American pasta dishes. Carol brought a cavati pasta machine all the way from Little Rhody. I’ve never seen this contraption and I was anxious to try it out.

You say cavati, I say gavadeal. These are RI and Jersey slang for the same pasta, better known as cavatelli.

Making the Ricotta Cavati Dough

Carol was the lead cook. Her cavati pasta dough is simply ricotta, milk, flour and an egg. This isn’t the gnocchi dough that is hardly kneaded so it stays light and tender. This dough is kneaded well to form a stiff, resilient dough, tough enough to be rolled into ropes and fed into the cavatelli pasta machine. It’s the fresh version of dried cavatelli pasta and it’s worth the effort. We made the cavati dough by hand but you can make it in a food processor to save time and effort. Mix the ingredients and knead it well to form a stiff dough.

 

Cavati Falling Out of the Pasta Machine

Roll out 1 inch dough ropes, feed it into the machine and crank. Out pop the cavati. The machine is amazing. Just keep cranking and in a couple of minutes you have a sea of cavati.

 

 

A Sea of Cavati

 

My mother dried her fresh pasta on a clean sheet atop her bed. We dried ours on the dining room table. Spread them out so they don’t touch one another and stick together. Let the cavati dry for 30 minutes.

 

Cavati with Vodka Sauce and Cavati with Broccoli Rabe

Carol made 2 sauces for the cavati — broccoli rabe with garlic, EVOO and chicken stock and the classic vodka cream sauce. Both were delicious. Here’s my first plate. The fresh cavati have a great toothsome feel, tender but resilient with each bite. The broccoli rabe sauce is garlicky and really rich with chicken stock flavor. The pink vodka sauce with flecks of tomato is silky and the cream mellows the San Marzano tomatoes. Buon appetitio!

If you have a cavatelli machine you are in good shape. If you do not simply roll out 1/2 inch ropes of dough. Cut the ropes in 1 inch pieces. Using your thumb press hard on each piece to flatten it out. It should curl up tightly as you press & pull with your thumb. You can get an idea of how to form these by watching my gnocchi video. The difference between the two is that you don’t want the puffy gnocchi form but rather a flat disk that tightly curls from the pressure of your thumb.

Or, just buy dried cavatelli from Italia.

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