Culinary Calendar: February

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With Carnevale in full swing the Arb’s domestic doyenne, Angela Clutton, prepares for the arrival of Shrove Tuesday with a delectably decadent Venetian alternative to the humble British pancake…

If you and I were in Venice right now (and maybe you are, you lucky devil) we’d be in the throes of its annual carnevale that runs for the fortnight or so up until Ash Wednesday.  There would be masks and costumes and revelry. More exciting than even those things, there would be the divine ‘frittelle’ doughnuts that have long been a part of pre-Lent festivities. These nuggets of pure pleasure are now a year-round treat but their roots lie in the traditional rituals of eating up indulgences like eggs, dairy and sugar before Lent starts.

Pancakes dominate those traditions here in the UK to such an extent that Shrove Tuesday seems to be losing the branding battle to ‘Pancake Day’. Maybe we’re missing a trick – how about ‘Doughnut Day’ instead? That is what the residents of the market town of Baldock in Hertfordshire traditionally celebrated.  In 1832 it was reported that the local children there preferred “small cakes fried in hog’s lard…called dough-nuts” for Shrove Tuesday’s feasting before the fast. I think they were onto something.

Pancake Day

In taste and look British doughnuts have rather more in common with the frittelle’s fluffy, sweet, pillows of sugar-dusted deliciousness than with the American-style stodgy round ones with a hole. So this year I shall be celebrating Doughnut Day on February 17th – with this wonderful frittelle recipe from a Venetian cook book by Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi.

Their frittelle knocked my socks off when I tried them recently. The boozy zabaione cream filling oozes out cheekily as you bite into them, in a way that makes them well-suited to another date in February’s Culinary Calendar. Anyone looking to impress their lover on Valentine’s Day could do a lot worse than make a batch (or half) of these.

Frittelle allo Zabaione (makes 20-25)

225ml water
35g unsalted butter
15g caster sugar, plus extra to serve
7g salt
160g ’00’ plain flour
250g eggs, beaten (around 4 large eggs)
50ml milk
1tsp rum
50g sultanas (optional)
2 drops vanilla extract
2 litres sunflower oil for deep-frying

Put the water, butter, sugar and salt into a saucepan over a medium hear to melt the butter. Pour in the flour in one go. Beat the mixture hard with a wooden spoon until the flour is well incorporated. Remove from the heat. Use a hand or electric whisk to beat in the eggs a little at a time until you have a smooth glossy mixture. Add the milk, rum, sultanas, and vanilla extract.

Heat the oil in a large high-sided frying pan or a deep-fat fryer to around 175C or until a small piece of bread sizzles as soon as it hits the fat. Take a heaped dessert-spoonful of the mixture, pressing it against the side of the bowl as you remove it to get a ‘quenelle’, and use another spoon to gently push it off into the hot oil. Don’t let it splash.

Fritelle

Fry until dark golden brown, around 5 minutes, pushing them down gently with a slotted spoon. They will roll and turn themselves over which is great to watch. Remove with the slotted spoon and drain on paper towels to cool.

To fill with the Zabaione Cream:

250ml milk
4 egg yolks
75g caster sugar, plus extra for dusting
50g strong white bread flour
125ml marsala, warmed
75ml whipping cream

Heat the milk over a medium heat in a large saucepan, but don’t let it boil. In a mixing bowl beat the egg yolks, sugar and flour together until smooth. Pour a ladleful of warm milk into the bowl and whisk through. Venice recipes packshotPour the egg mixture into the saucepan, stirring continuously and heat until thickened. Add the warmed marsala, whisking it in little by little. Transfer to a clean large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and gently push the plastic wrap down so it is touching the surface of the custard. This is to stop a skin from forming. Set aside to cool.  Whip the cream to soft peaks and when the custard is cool fold it into the cream.

To fill the frittelle scoop the cream into a piping bag with a nozzle. Use this to poke a hole in the frittelle and pipe in the custard. Dust with caster sugar and serve.

The frittelle are fine to freeze unfilled and can be kept in the fridge overnight filled or unfilled.

Recipe from ‘Venice: Recipes Lost & Found’ by Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi (Hardie Grant, £25.00)

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