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
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.
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.
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.
* 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.