by Carla Caruso, author of The Right Place (Harlequin HQ)
I have many fond memories of cooking with my late nonna—or Italian grandma—growing up. One thing you could always count on her bringing out at Christmastime was zeppole. (Deep-fried dough balls for the uninitiated.)
These weren’t like the fancy ones you get at cafes but peasant-style, imperfectly-shaped ones, using basic ingredients. Some she ‘Aussie-fied’ by poking in some apricot jam before frying, others she kept savoury by adding anchovies. It was pot luck whatever you grabbed from the tray; she never separated the flavours! Nonna’s not around anymore, so she won’t know I’ve tweaked her recipe a little, swapping the anchovies for cheese this time. The recipe’s also included in my new novel, The Right Place.
(makes about two plates’ worth)
- 4 cups plain flour
- 2 cups lukewarm water (more or less, as needed)
- 1 sachet of dry yeast
- ½ teaspoon of sugar
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
- Oil for frying
- Apricot jam
- Cheese of your choice, cut into cubes (a variety that’ll melt well)
Begin by dissolving the sugar in a cup of lukewarm water. Add in the dry yeast and wait for it to foam (the sugar aiding this process).
In a large bowl, pour in the flour and add the water, mixing the dough by hand. Add the salt, pepper and remaining cup of lukewarm water, a little at a time, as needed, to achieve a soft dough. Mix well and work for about five minutes.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a tea towel, and place in a warm, draught-free area of the kitchen to allow it to rise. Full rising should take about two hours.
In a frypan (or wok, if it’s easier), bring your oil to frying temperature. (Drop a tiny piece of dough into the oil; if it rises quickly and begins frying, it’s ready.) Using two spoons, take a small glob of dough and poke either a spoonful of jam or small cheese cube into the centre. Try covering up the filling as best as you can, then drop the ball into the hot oil. (Be careful not to stand too close in case of oil splatter. And don’t use too much dough for each zeppolaor they won’t cook well on the inside.)
Repeat until your frypan is three-quarters full, so there’s room for the zeppoleto grow. Remove when they’re golden all over and drain on paper towels. The jam ones you could also roll in a plate of sugar first. Serve warm and try not to finish a whole plate singlehandedly!