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.
Happy frying. Buon appetito!
- 2½ teaspoons yeast (one package)
- 2 cups warm water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2½ cups all purpose flour
- Safflower or your favorite frying oil
- 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.
- Add the remaining 1½ cup of warm water and the salt and mix well.
- Add ½ cup of flour to the bowl and mix well.
- When the flour is well incorporated add another ½ cup of flour to the bowl and mix well.
- 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.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for about an hour until the batter is bubbling and double in volume.
- (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.)
- 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.)
- 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.
- Move the fritters around so they have plenty of room to fry.
- 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.
- When the fitters are golden all over drain the fritters on paper towel.
- Dust sweet fritters with powdered sugar and savory fritters with a sprinkle of sea salt and serve immediately.