As anyone with a sweet tooth will tell you, carnival time in Italy means more than just children in fancy dress and confetti-strewn streets. If you peer into the window of any pastry shop this week you will see tempting stacks of sugar-dusted frappe and castagnole just begging to be eaten.
Castagnole originated in Emilia-Romagna but they are now found across the country, albeit with the usual variations from town to town and family to family. These little fried balls, which are named after the chestnut (castagna) because of their shape, are similar in texture to a doughnut with a slightly crisp exterior and a light, fluffy centre. The recipe below uses Marsala wine and lemon zest, but they can also be stuffed with crema pasticcera, Nutella or even sweet ricotta. Although you can bake them in the oven for a healthier version, there is nothing quite like freshly fried castagnole made by your own fair hands.
Castagnole (serves 8)
500g flour ‘00’
4 egg yolks
100g melted butter
1 packet (16g) lievito per dolci/baking powder
4 tbsp Marsala wine
Pinch of salt
Oil for frying (olio di semi)
Icing sugar to serve
What to do:
Grate the zest of the lemon and mix together with the sugar.
Pour the flour onto a work surface and make a well in the centre. Into the well place the lemon sugar, baking powder and a pinch of salt. Beat the eggs with the egg yolks and pour into the well along with the melted butter, milk and Marsala wine.
Using a fork, gradually mix the flour into the centre of the well and then use your hands to knead until the mixture is smooth and compact. If the mixture is too dry add a little milk, if it is too wet add some more flour.
Divide the dough into 10 equal parts and roll each one into a sausage shape about 2-3cm thick. Then cut into 2cm long piece and roll each piece into a ball, placing them onto a floured surface.
Pour a good glug of oil into a deep frying pan and heat until just boiling. Fry the castagnole in batches over a low flame for about 2 minutes until the inside is cooked and the outside is just turning golden.
Remove from the pan, drain the excess oil on kitchen paper and then sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.