Semel in anno licet insanire

My version of sweetened rice fritters for Carnevale

My version of sweetened rice fritters for Carnevale

Once in a year one is allowed to go crazy.

Carnevale is celebrated in Italy from the Epiphany on January 6th through Martedi grasso, the day prior to the beginning of la quaresima or Lent, a 40-day period of self-deprivation, fast and prayer that begins on Ash Wednesday. The days leading up to Lent are a time of indulgence before the penitence, traditionally dedicated to entertainment, music and revelry. Venice famously celebrates Carnevale with extravagant masquerade balls while towns such as Viareggio in Tuscany and Sciacca in Sicily hold parades with elaborate papier–mâché floats. Festivities are held in town piazze throughout Italy and playful mischief inevitably abounds, thus inspiring the saying, “a Carnevale ogni scherzo vale” – anything goes at Carnival.

Like every other Italian celebration, special foods are prepared for Carnevale and i dolci tradizionali di Carnevale typically consist of fried treats, including:

Cicerchiata – A specialty of Abruzzo and other Central Italian regions, la cicerchiata consists of tiny fried balls of dough rolled in honey, formed into rings, logs or individual clusters and decorated with colored sprinkles and slivered almonds. The dessert derives its name from la cicerchia, an ancient legume indigenous to Central Italy, the shape of which la cicerchiata resembles.

Cicerchiata prepared by my talented friend Giulia Scappaticcio of the lovely Country House Casale Centurione in Manoppello (Abruzzo) -

Cicerchiata prepared by my talented friend Giulia Scappaticcio of the lovely Country House Casale Centurione in Manoppello (Abruzzo) –

Struffoli or Pignolata – Southern Italy’s version of la cicerchiata, the fried honey balls are called struffoli in Naples and pignolata in Sicily.

My version of struffoli or pignolata

My version of struffoli or pignolata

Chiacchiere – Crispy strips or squares of fried dough flavored with wine or liqueur and generously dusted with powdered sugar. They are popular in regions throughout Italy, albeit by various colorful names: grostoli in Friuli, bugie in Piemonte, sfrappole in Emilia, galani in Veneto, frappe in Le Marche, cenci in Tuscany and chiacchiere in Campania.

Castagnole – Sweet, pillowy fritters that originated in Friuli.

Tortelli o Ravioli Dolci – Sweet fried ravioli or tortelli filled with ricotta, jam or dried fruit. In Naples, a variation called causone napoletano has a filling of sharp pecorino cheese.

Zeppole – The ancestor of the fried dough found at carnivals and street fairs in the US, zeppole are thought to have emerged in Naples in the 1800s and are prepared both with and without a custard filling.

Frittelle di Riso – Sweetened rice fritters from Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna – recipe below 🙂

Buon Carnevale a tutti!

Frittelle di Riso

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©

Makes about 60 fritters

  • 2 ½ cups Arborio rice
    6 cups of milk
    6 tablespoons sugar (plus more for sprinkling at the end)
  • Peel of one lemon, shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • Seeds from one vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 cups of oil for frying (vegetable, canola or olive oil is fine. I used canola.)

Combine rice, milk, 4 tablespoons of sugar, lemon peel and vanilla and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the rice is tender, stirring often to prevent sticking (all of the milk should be absorbed). Place rice in a large bowl and add beaten egg yolks, flour and baking powder. Stir to combine and let cool, but do not refrigerate. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt on low speed until foamy. Add the additional two tablespoons of sugar in a slow, steady stream and continue to whip the egg whites on high speed until they have soft peaks. Fold the egg whites into the rice mixture until evenly combined. (Prior to adding the egg whites, the rice mixture will be very dense – the addition of the egg whites should make the mixture much looser and appear creamier). In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil until shimmering. Drop fritters into the hot oil in tablespoons. Fry in batches (quickly), flipping when one side is golden (not brown). Remove to a plate lined with paper towels and generously sprinkle with sugar while still hot. Serve immediately or allow to cool and serve at room temperature. Buon appetito e Buon Carnevale!


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6 thoughts on “Semel in anno licet insanire

  1. Antonette February 12, 2013 at 2:01 pm Reply

    definitely trying them…I like to use sunflower oil for frying would that be ok?!

    • Majella Home Cooking February 12, 2013 at 6:41 pm Reply

      Teach me a little something, Antonette….why sunflower oil? I actually have never used it.

  2. Adri February 12, 2013 at 5:56 pm Reply

    Complimenti! What a pleasure to make your acquaintance, and what an excellent overview of Carnevale treats. I am just a fried dough addict, so this is a wonderful time of year as far as I am concerned. It’s also the season fr winter citrus – blood oranges and Meyer lemons, in particular. I like to think that judicious consumption of the former is balanced by generous consumption of the latter. Somehow, though I never really seem to be able to give up the fried dough for Lent… alla prossima!

    • Majella Home Cooking February 12, 2013 at 6:40 pm Reply

      The pleasure is all mine, Adri! Grazie mille! I just bought a basket of Meyer lemons…however, I think I may need to find a non-fried use for them after today’s gross display of Carnevale over-indulgence! A presto!

  3. Antonette February 13, 2013 at 8:37 am Reply

    My mom buys it all the time when she goes to Italy for the summer in the supermarket and she actually brought some back one year because she said the oil she used here didn’t “fry” the same and then I bought it for her here..the sunflower oil is great…it has a high level of “cooking” when frying and the oil doesn’t burn…it doesn’t contain high saturated fat like vegetable oil or canola oil and doesn’t have that “frying oil” smell you get when frying. I have used vegetable oil and canola oil before but will not go back..try it…I use it only when frying and in place of vegetable oil for baking…but of course extra virgin olive oil for cooking! 🙂

    • Majella Home Cooking February 14, 2013 at 4:44 pm Reply

      Thanks, Antonette! Will buy a bottle (although I think I might lay off frying for a while 😉

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