Tag Archives: frappe

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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Filed under Bakeries, Rome

Frappe, chiacchiere, cenci, angel wings – sweet deep-fried pasta treats

Plateful of frappe

One of the many things I’m missing about Rome is the pasticcerie – pastry bakeries, patisseries. Our old neighbourhood alone had four within about a hundred metres of each other, all independent, selling wonderful selections of handmade pastries. And what made these places a particular joy – for a baked goods geek like me – was watching their wares change over the seasons.

Particularly fun was the period of Carnevale, equivalent to our word carnival, and from the Latin to “take the meat away”. That is, stop eating meat for Lent, the period of Christian abstinence before Easter. In the Roman pasticcerie, Carnevale seemed to start pretty much immediately after Christmas and was heralded by the appearance of frappe and castagnole. For the two Carnevales we were in Rome, we indulged in these goodies extensively (check out here, here and here).

Plateful 2

Angelic chit-chat
I never tried making them though – there was little incentive when they were easily available. But now I’m home in Blighty, where proper handmade pastries aren’t quite so readily available. Plus, I was browsing Diana Henry’s book Roast Figs Sugar Snow and found her recipe for bugne ­– which are pretty much identical to frappe but from Lyon, France and take their name from the word beignet, another kind of sweet, dough fritter variable.

Bugne and frappe are simply deep-fried pieces of enriched, sweetened pastry or pasta dough* served dusted with icing sugar. Indeed, good ol’ Wikipedia – the dream of the internet incarnate – lumps bugne and frappe and may other similar international treats under the entry for “Angel wings”, which is presumably the US American English term, as I’ve not heard it in British English.

For me they’ll always be frappe as that was the name used in Rome, but even Italian has several other names for them, including cenci (“rags”) and chiacchiere (“chit-chat”).

So anyway, it’s technically Lent now, so I should have done this recipe a few weeks ago. But, well, I’m not religious and I just felt like some. Apologies to any devout Catholics who treat their seasonal gluttony proper seriously.

Frappe recipe

250g plain flour
1/2 t baking powder
30g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
Zest of half a lemon
25g butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
1/2 t vanilla essence
1/2 T of liquor – grappa, brandy, rum, or whatever depending on your inclinations and what’s in your cabinet. We didn’t really have anything so I added a dash of vodka.
Oil for deep-frying (sunflower or similar)
Icing sugar for dusting

1. Sieve the flour and baking powder together into a bowl.
2. Add the pinch of salt.
3. Add the sugar and lemon zest.

Eggs
4. Lightly beat together the eggs, add the vanilla essence and liquor.
5. I could say “make a well in the centre….” but I’m not convinced you really need to worry about that unless you’re working directly on a work surface so simply add the egg mix into the flour mix.

Added together
6. Likewise add the melted butter.
Mixing

7. Bring together a dough. (You could do all this in a food processor, like making short-crust pastry, or in a mixer.)

Ready to roll
8. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes until smooth and well integrated.
9. Wrap in plastic and leave to rest for at least half an hour in a cool, draught-free place.
Rolled
10. Pin out the dough to about 1mm thick, maximum 2mm. You want them thin so they cook through and crisp up evenly. Ideally, roll it out with a pasta machine. We don’t have one.

Cut CU
11. Cut rectangles about 5 x 10cm. If you have one of those little pastry wheels that gives a crimpedety** cut, perfect.

Cuts
12. Cut two slices within the rectangle. The difference between frappe and bugne is in the cut, nominally. With the bugne, you cut one slice and fold the piece of dough in on itself.

Frying
13. Heat the oil (to about 170C) then deep-fry the dough pieces a few at a time, until golden.

Cooling
14. Take out and put on some kitchen paper to absorb some of the fat.
15. When cool, arrange on a plate and dust liberally with icing sugar.

With hot choc
16. Enjoy, perhaps with a nice rich cup of quality hot chocolate.

After our record winter rains, we had a warm, sunny, dry March, very much spring. But now it’s turned cool and wet again, so I think we can do a bit more hot chocolate drinking before it gets too balmy to really enjoy that most delightful of hot drink. Current hot chocolate of choice is still Montezuma’s Dark, but local coffee-grinders Jaju also sell a very fine Columbia hot chocolate.

I found it very hard to stop eating these last night. So it’s probably better if I don’t make them too frequently.

* This dish really highlights the fine line between pastry and pasta.
** I am aware this is not a real word.

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Filed under Other food, Recipes, Rome

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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Filed under Cakes, Discussion

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