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Castagnole recipe

Castagnole

Lent this year starts this Wednesday, 18 February. (Making today Collop Monday in olde British parlance.)  Which means it’s still Carnival, Carnevale, and there’s time for a few more traditional treats of the season. Anyone who’s read my blog before will know I enjoy castagnole, the Italian Carnevale sweets that are basically dough-ball doughnuts. The name relates to the Italian for chestnut, castagna, as they’re of similar dimensions, and deepfried to a lovely brown colour but there’s nothing else chestnut related in the recipe.

I ate loads of them last week when we visited Rome, but here’s my own recipe, for those of us living in countries with a more miserably chaste take on Carnevale.

You can make castagnole without any leavening agent at all, or there are recipes that are leavened with yeast. But I found this worked well, resulting in the balls puffing up and cracking slightly when you deep-fry them, and a fairly open, spongy interior.

250g plain/all-purpose or low protein 00 flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch salt
50g caster sugar
Zest of half a lemon (optional)
50g butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
Sunflower oil for frying*
Sugar for serving

1. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Add the pinch of salt, sugar and zest.
2. Add the vanilla to the eggs and beat slightly, then add this along with the butter to the flour mixture.

Castagnole componentsCastagnole dough 1

Castagnole dough 2Castagnole dough 3
3. Combine all the ingredients, then turn out and work to a soft, smooth dough. Don’t overwork it.
4. Wrap in plastic and rest for half an hour.

Shaping castagnole
5. Divide the ball of dough up into pieces and roll these into sausage shapes.
6. Cut the sausages into small pieces, about 20g each.
7. Roll these piece between your hands to form small balls.

Frying castagnole
8. Heat oil in a large pan (to about 180C if you have a thermometer) then deepfry the balls in small batches, until golden, about 2-5 minutes.
9. Remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper, to absorb some of the oil.

Castagnole cooling
10. To serve, liberally with icing sugar (aka powdered sugar, confectioner’s sugar) or roll in caster sugar. Or indeed both if you really like refined sugar. So healthy!

Enjoy… while you can. I mean, you can make them any time you like, especially if you’re not Catholic or are entirely nonreligious, but personally I like keeping seasonal specialities special by having them at the relevant time of the year. So that means I have to eat all these before Wednesday. It’s not like I’m religious and going to have an ascetic Lent, but I respect the principle.

Castagnole close up

 

* Italian recipes I looked at say “Olio di semi” – seed oil, ie sunflower seed oil – or simply “Olio per frittura” – oil for frying, while another says “strutto” – lard. We talked about this on our last visit to Italy, where people even use olive oil for deep-frying, something that’s contrary to what we’ve been told here in the UK. There are, however, a lot of arguments (smoke points, cost factors, etc) and a lot of myths (destruction of nutrients etc), which I won’t go into now. Suffice to say, I actually used a mix of sunflower oil and rapeseed oil, as the latter is something that’s produced locally to where I live, unlike olive oil, which, sadly, isn’t.

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Carnevale, castagnole and cocci

Valzani frappe and castagnole

We discovered the delights of the Roman Carnevale season in January 2012. We’d had our first Christmas in Rome, then a few weeks afterwards we saw some unfamiliar new items appearing in our local pasticcerie and bakeries. These were frappe and castagnole, with the first being a kind of sweet pasta and the second a kind of sweet dough ball.

Passi classic castagnole

These treats are part of the celebrations of Carnevale, the Catholic festive season that takes place immediately before the decidedly more restrained period of Lent. Although Lent’s timing is defined by Easter, which is itself a moveable feast dated in relation to the equinox and moon phases, Italian Carnevale is celebrated during February, or for the four weeks before Lent. Though frappe and castagnole may first appear in mid-January.

During Carnevale, children dress up and throw around confetti (cordiandoli in Italian). It was lovely to see Piazza Testaccio, until 2012 site of the neighbourhood market, finally re-opened with the wonderful 1927 Fontana delle Amfore (Fountain of Amphorae) at the centre, and children in their Frozen (naturally) and Batman outfits playing, and cheerily threatening passers-by with handfuls of coriandoli. I love this method of keeping winter at bay:  seasonal speciality foods, lively ceremonial activities in public spaces.

The fountain was originally designed for here, then it was moved to the edge of Testaccio, at the end of Ponte Subliccio, in the 1930s. So it’s a kind of homecoming . Designed by architect Pietro Lombardi it’s very much in a modernist-fascist style, though two of its four bas-relief shields are blank, presumably purged of fascist iconography. If you spend time in Rome, it’s a fun game to try and spot the other eight district fountains designed by Lombardi.

Piazza Testaccio Fountain of Amphorae

Talking of amphorae, on this visit we were also lucky enough to be able to go up Monte Testaccio itself. This little hill, also known as Monte dei Cocci (with coccio meaning earthenware, or shard), which rises to 35m and looms over the neighbourhood, is actually a garbage dump. For around two hundred years, used olive oil amphorae, broken into shards, were neatly stacked here by the ancient Romans. There are more than 50 million amphorae, it’s estimated.

Monte Testaccio used to be a public park, but was already closed off when we arrived in 2011, deemed unsafe. So I was really excited to get a chance to finally go up there. It was fascinating to be walking on these artifacts, to be able to pick up handles used, almost two millennia ago, to lift the amphorae full of olive oil imported from the Roman empire and offloaded at Testaccio’s quay. So a big thanks to local sociologist Iren Ranaldi for the tour, and Rachel for sorting it out for us.

Monte Testaccio amphorae shards

For the two Carnevali we lived in Rome, I obsessed over frappe and castagnole slightly, eating as many as I could from different places. Last year, our first Carnevale back in England, I made my first frappe. They worked surprisingly well, and you can find the recipe here.

We’ve just had another visit to Rome, and although I had a stinking cold it didn’t stop me sampling more frappe and castagnole. We stayed in Rachel’s flat in Testaccio, which is above one bakery, Panificio Passi, so that was the best place to start. Along with the frappe they had several types of castagnole: classic, plain; rum-flavoured; alchermes-flavoured; baked; filled with custard; filled with ricotta, all sold by weight.

Passi rum castagnole

We had classic and custard, and while they were very good, the ones we had from another bakery a few blocks away were better. This was Pasticceria di Zio, whose classic castagnole were larger, with a slight crunch to their crust.

Zio castagnole

I’ve not made castagnole, but as I’m a big fan, and we can’t just go to our local bakery or pastry shop in smalltown England and stock up, I’m going to have a go at a recipe. That should be my next post, as I really ought to do it during Carnevale, or at least the month of February. Even if Lent starts next Wednesday, 18 February.

Amphora handle, Monte Testaccio, Rome

 

 

 

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Carnival and castagnole 2013

We don’t really do Carnival in England or the rest of the UK. Or at least, as Wikipedia says, “Carnival is traditionally held in areas with a large Catholic… makeup. Protestant areas usually do not have Carnival celebrations or have modified traditions, such as the Danish Carnival or other Shrove Tuesday events.”

Although I was raised a Catholic, we didn’t do anything like Carnival in my home – it was just Shrove Tuesday, aka Pancake Day (a blowout on pancakes, lemon and sugar that even heathens enjoy), then Lent (restraint for Catholics), then Easter (a blowout on highly religious chocolate eggs…). So Carnival here surprises me. The Romans once more express their love of  fireworks and a snow of confetti is added to the general mess in the streets.

(As an aside – confetti is clearly an Italian loanword in English. Though confusingly, it’s not the Italian for confetti – ie the stuff you throw at the happy couple at weddings. Rice and small paper thrown at weddings, or used to celebrate Carnival, is called coriandoli in Italian – the plural of the herb/spice coriander. Confetto [plural confetti] instead means both a pill or a sugared almond.)

More cheery than the garbage are  the seasonal edible goodies. Last year, we discovered castagnole and frappe, treats sold specifically at Carnival. I wrote these treats last year (here and here), their characteristics, the other regional names used in Italy, etc then so I’ll try not to go on too much now.

This year we’ve been eschewing the crunchy delights of frappe, deep-fried sweet pasta shreds, dusted with icing sugar. Instead, we’ve mostly been focussing on castagnole, smallish balls of deep-fried dough that may or may not be filled with custards or ricotta. We’ve been favouring the non-filled, castagnole semplici this year. They’re basically dough-balls, very similar in taste and texture to a British doughnut – sweet dough, deep-fried, rolled or coated in sugar. You can watch some being made here, with the recipe (in Italian or English). TBH, I walk past so many pasticcerie on a daily basis that are brimming with castagnole I don’t feel the need to make them. But if I do, I will of course report back.

Since Christmas I’ve been vowing to ease off on the making and scoffing of cakes, ease off on the purchasing and scoffing of pasticceria wares. But hey, it’s still winter, it’s cold, and I think we can justify the intensive regime of carbs for a few more weeks. At least until Shrove Tuesday, then we should really stop for Lent (Quaresima). Oh, hang on, that’s tomorrow. Oh, hang on again though – we’re not religious, so it’s okay. I’m not sure about the rest of the population of good Catholics here though: the pasticcerie don’t suddenly stop selling castagnole and frappe for Quaresima, so somebody’s still busy eating them, all the way to Easter. So not really observing Lent very assiduously. Vergogna! For shame!

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Innocenti is bliss

My noble quest to try castagnole and frappe from, well, as many different pasticcerie as possible, continues. Today we dropped by Innocenti, which, for sheer vintage cuteness, is incomparable.

Nestled in Via della Luce, a cobbled backstreet in the slightly less touristy part of Roma’s Trastevere (that is, to the east of Viale Trasteve), the shop is dominated by the vast form of a veteran conveyor oven, which is currently partially stacked with frappe and castagnole.

And very nice they are too. We bought castagnole con crema and yer basic frappe. Just scoffed a load, then managed a bit of self restraint and stashed some for later. That said, better finish them soon, so I can justify sampling some more from another outlet…

Innocenti, aka Biscottificio Artigiano Innocenti, 21 Via della Luce.

And look at all the goodies they sell. Not just biscuits. Yum. Got my work cut out for me.

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Filed under Baking, Food misc, Rome

Pass the dolci

Italians love their dolci: sweets, desserts, ice cream and pastries, or pasticceria. I always assumed the French had the last word on patisserie, but living in Rome, I’m not so sure any more. In Monteverde Vecchio, our neighbourhood, indeed within about 100 metres of our flat, there are at least three pasticcerie (as I understand it, the word can mean the outlet, the trade and the product), as well as a bakery/tavolo caldo (“hot table” – meaning then sell hot snacks) that also does pasticceria. Two of these places, and another one just down the hill on Viale Trastevere, have counters around 4-5 metres long utterly packed with biscuits, pastries, chocolates and sweeties that you buy by weight. And none of them are chains. That’s one thing I love about Italy – it’s got an incredibly strong business culture of independents, of SMEs (small-medium sized enterprises). As well as all the independent pasticceria, which are also cafés, there are umpteen independent cafés, which also sell pasticceria. Although I’m an oddity in this culture for my dislike of coffee, I’m more than happy to frequent these places and indulge in pastries and, as it’s the winter (hey, there was a frost last night), I can get away with drinking lots of the cioccolata calda without breaching too much strict Italian food and drink etiquette. Well, I say “drinking” but it’s frequently half-way to eating as Italian hot chocolate is generally thickened with cornflour, making it a thick, gloopy thing that’s almost like a hot chocolate mousse. My current obsession is for castagnole and frappe, which started appearing in the pasticcerie shortly after Christmas, specifically at Epiphany; that’s 6 January for heathens. These are seasonal sweet treats for carnevale – carnival or Mardi Gras season. The Christian tradition is that Mardi Gras, aka Fat Tuesday, aka Shrove Tuesday, aka Pancake Day, is the day when you use up all your rich food products, fats and sugars to initiate Lent, the period of abstemiousness that leads up to Easter. While us Brits, and others, might have a pancake blow-out on just one day, here in Italy it looks like we’re getting weeks of the aforementioned treats. So, castagnole are small, deep-fried dough balls, a bit like doughnuts, but the dough isn’t leavened with yeast, but with chemical raising agents, ie baking powder or equivalent, according to both the ingredients taped up on the counter at Pasticceria Dolci Desideri (“Sweets you want”!; our local, on Via Anton G Barrili) and the recipe on this blog. The word presumably relates to castagna – chestnut – though they have no chestnut flavouring. Instead you can get them semplice (plain) or filled with crema (custard) or ricotta. Frappe, meanwhile, are basically thin rectangles of crisp, slightly puffy pastry, like a sweetened pasta, baked or deep-fried, and sprinkled with icing sugar, or sometimes flavoured with honey. The name itself (singular: frappa) is a bit confusing, as the similar word frappé means shake, or milkshake. According to the above-mentioned blog, they’re also known as cenci (the plural of cencio, rag – not very appetising), stracci (shreds; stracciare is the verb to tear or rip up) and lattughe (lettuce) in other parts of Italy. We’ve been treating ourselves to castagnole and frappe, well, pretty much every day this week. It can’t go on, for obvious reasons, but not only are they delicious, there’s just something inherently lovely about going to a pasticceria and getting some treats wrapped up like a gift (eco concerns about over-packaging notwithstanding.) Really, Brits have a long way to go to make the patisserie experience as charming as this. Sure we have some wonderful independent bakeries these days, but their patisserie can still seem meagre by comparison, even if they have an array of poncy cupcakes. And for people who still don’t even have access to real bakeries, some foul mass-produced “Toffee Flavour Yum Yum” from “Greggs The Home of Fresh Baking” [sic] just doesn’t cut it.

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Filed under Baking, Food misc, Main thread, Rome