Wednesday, May 13, 2015

HAPPY PASTA (PUT AN EGG ON IT)


In the past years, there have been few things that made me happier than the rehabilitation of the egg as a health food. It is really up there with the comeback of leggings and the birth of my children. Really, I love eggs. I love them in all their gastronomic incarnations and for their simple beauty (please check my humble Pinterest homage, "The Egg Came First"). In fact, I'm pretty sure my elder days will see me as an Italian-American version of Edith Massey's Egg Lady, juggling hard-boiled eggs in the air and dishing out frittatas left and right. You've been warned.

You can only imagine how I felt when I found the recipe for "pasta with a fried egg" in a tome of ancient traditional Italian recipes that a friend gave me when I moved to the United States. The dish is from Calabria, the region of bold and spicy flavors, and is so simple and genius I could not believe I had spent thirty years of my life without it.

So, what's pasta with a fried egg about? Well, it is simply good-quality spaghetti tossed with extra-virgin olive oil, red pepper flakes, and pecorino, and then topped with a fried egg. Once the dish is presented to you in all its sunny cheerfulness, you just break the egg with a fork and release the runny yolk for your personal, instant mini-carbonara.


The first time I made it for myself and Mr Bee, we became almost giddy with joy. This spicy, hearty pasta was flavorful and creamy, and probably one the best examples of old-Italy comfort food. Also, for someone as lazy and perennially late as I am, I could not get over about how easy it was to make.

Now to the important stuff. For a dish this simple, the pasta needs to be good quality, which means it needs to have flavor on its own and be able to keep "al dente" (many low-quality pasta turn to glue a minute after you take them out of the pot). For the past few years, I've been using Trader Joe's organic spaghetti, but they've recently changed brand, and I still need to test it. I think De Cecco pasta should work, and you definitely can use hardier long pasta like Venetian bigoli or bucatini. In a pinch, and for a healthy accent, I like to use Trader Joe's whole-wheat pasta, which has surprising great bite and taste. I know that's not traditional, but we're not purists here: We just have standards, right? One last piece of advice: I would not use egg pasta; as much as I love eggs, that would be redundant.

So let's celebrate the good weather we're having and the decreasing pollen count with a simple, quick, cheap, and happy pasta that is as fun to serve as it is to eat. And for the hearts of stone out there, how can you resist that yolk's adorable stare? DIG IN.




PASTA WITH A FRIED EGG


Makes 4 portions

10 oz spaghetti (good quality)
1/2 C grated Pecorino
1 whole dried red pepper, crushed, or 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or whatever you feel comfortable with)
3 tbsp EVOO + more of drizzle on pasta
4 eggs (preferably pasteurized)


  • Cook the spaghetti al dente in a large pot of salted water.
  • While the spaghetti cook, fry the eggs in the EVOO until the whites are firm, and the yolks are still runny.
  • Drain or scoop the pasta out of the water (you want it to retain some of the water to better bind with the other ingredient) and place in a bowl. Stir in the Pecorino, the red pepper, and some more EVOO to taste.
  • Divide the pasta on the plates, and top each with a fried egg.
  • Sit down to eat, chop the egg coarsely with your fork so that the yolk runs all over your pasta, and enjoy.

And since we're making pasta, let's refresh our basic pasta skills:


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

YOU'RE READING MY DIARY

BUSBOYS AND POETS?

Before last week, I had never been to Busboys and Poets, the DC "community gathering place" where you can eat and read (my favorite pastimes). So when Mr Bee woke up on Sunday and suggested I take two hours away from the kids to have coffee by myself somewhere, I got dressed and ready in 10 seconds flat, grabbed my laptop, and rushed to the new Busboys and Poets location in Takoma, DC. When I got there, the place was packed, but I saw one free tables in the café section, albeit with a few dirty cups from the previous patrons. I asked the hostess if I could sit there and plug my battery-pauper laptop, and she said yes. Ten minutes passed with me standing in front of my dirty table, so eventually I picked the cups, put them on the bar, and sat down only to realize there was no outlet to plug in my laptop. The waitress finally came and acknowledged the lack of outlets. We looked at each other in the eyes for a long instant, and then I told her I would go somewhere else. As I left the place, a little confused and a little sad, I realized the last thing I expected from a place called "Busboys and Poets"  was to have to bus my own table and leave. So the only appropriate thing to do was to write my own poem as well. That'll teach them.

Dear hostess,
Are you useless?
Or just smarter than me?
'Cause I cleaned up your table
And did not get my tea.


DONE WONDERING


MicroBee is in the sunny last line. 
A couple of weeks ago, in a moment of boredom, I was perusing the apps on my smartphone when I opened the "baby" folder and found again The Wonder Weeks, the companion app to the bestselling infant development book of the same name. For those who might not be familiar with it, the Wonder Weeks are ten stages of mental development that all infants go through on their way to becoming accomplished toddlers. A Wonder Week is an amazing mental "leap" during which your child becomes magically able to master new physical, mental, and emotional skills. Unfortunately, each Wonder Week is preceded by an exhausting period of extreme, unforgiving, back-breaking rage and neediness from said genius child that I believe the authors were too chicken to call The Month of Shit. It is the other side of the infant coin. In any case, according to the app chart, my 18-month-old MicroBee has finally emerged from the rollercoaster of mental growth-spurts that are The Wonder Weeks. So I guess my parenting will be downhill from here. *pats own shoulder* 


BIOMETRICS BUMMER

I'm currently in the process of becoming a US citizen, and the second step, after submitting all of the paperwork, is getting fingerprinted and photographed for the so called biometrics. I went through this process once already when I applied for my green card, and the experience was marred by my assigned officer complaining multiple times about my "greasy, greasy thumbs" that were preventing her from collecting my fingerprints. This time, I arrived all clean and made-up, and with perfectly degreased thumbs, only to be told that my bangs could not be in the photograph. I had two hairpins with me, but no mirror, so I started pinning my bangs back blindly with very poor results. How do I know the results were poor? Because this time my assigned officer had a laughing fit while looking at my image on the screen. And when I told her, "I don't want to see how I look," she answered, "Yeah, YOU DON'T WANT TO SCARE YOURSELF." Oh well, so much for my hopes of gaining that world-famous American confidence through naturalization. I guess I'll be the eyesore in America the Beautiful. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

NOT TOO LATE: MALLOREDDUS WITH LAMB RAGÙ

Malloreddus with lamb ragù, a Sardinian pasta

One of the main differences between Dead Chef and a serious food blog is that the serious food blogs publishe holiday recipes on time, so that readers have all the time to make up their minds on their menu, buy the necessary supplies, and even attempt a recipe once before the big day. So it is with a little shame that I present you with my Easter recipe a full two weeks after Easter. The recipe is Malloreddus with Lamb Ragù, which should lessen the shame quite a bit since it's a pretty damn delicious.

So, Easter. I love lamb: so soft, so flavorful, so fat. It was one of the main reasons that Mr Bee and I spent our honeymoon in Sardinia, the beautiful Italian island that is heaven on earth and that perfected the use of lamb in cooking to an art. Among the million amazing dishes we tried on our 6-day trip (we ate in our sleep, too), there was a simple pasta with a lamb ragù that captured our hearts and possibly initiated their clogging. The pasta was malloreddus, a traditional small "dumpling" you can find in specialty stores or at conventional grocery stores under the name of "gnocchetti".

The main focus of the recipe, however, is the lamb ragù. I based my recipe on the Florentine ragù preached by Giuliano Bugialli in his precious tome The Fine Art of Italian Cooking (incidentally, a great culinary history book, too). I made Bugialli's ragù many times with beef, veal and pork, and even turkey (surprisingly flavorful), and it always comes out extremely well: rich, earthy, velvety, and abundant. I believe the secret lies in the use of dried porcini mushrooms to impart a robust, earthy vigor to any sauce. You might want to find some good-quality dried porcini for this; I get mine straight from Italy.

Once you have your lamb ragù, you just mix it with the cooked pasta and serve the dish drizzled in good extra-virgin olive oil and topped with grated Pecorino. It's a super-flavorful pasta with the pomp of a winter recipe and the simplicity of a last-minute spring lunch. Perfect for Easter, then, or right afterwards.

Malloreddus with lamb ragù, a Sardinian pasta


MALLOREDDUS WITH LAMB RAGÙ

FOR THE RAGÙ

4–5 large pieces of dried porcini mushrooms 
3 tbsp EVOO + more to top off pasta in the end
1 onion, minced
1 carrot, minced
1 celery rib, minced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbs tomato paste
1 lb ground lamb
1/2 C red wine
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb canned tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1 1/2 C vegetable stock

1 lb malloreddus (or Barilla "gnocchetti")
3–4 tbsp grated Pecorino, preferably Sardinian


  • Soak the mushrooms in a cup filled with warm water for at least 20 minutes.
  • Make the soffritto: Heat the EVOO in a large pot (I use a Dutch oven), and then add the garlic, onion, carrot, and celery and let cook at a low heat until soft and a little caramelized. You might want to splash some water here and there if the soffritto ever gets dry.
  • Add the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Turn the heat to medium, and mix in the ground lamb. Sauté for 15 minutes, then spoon off most of the fat. Unless you want to keep it, of course. I'm not judging. *tips hat*
  • Add the red wine and cook until evaporated, for another 10–15 minutes.
  • While the wine cooks down, pureé the tomatoes with an electric blender.
  • Once the wine is cooked down, add salt and pepper to taste and mix in the tomatoes.
  • Lower the heat and cook for 25 minutes.
  • Remove the porcini mushrooms from the water, give them a good squeeze, chop them, and add them to the sauce.
  • Strain the water from the dried mushroom through paper towels or a fine sieve to remove any grit.
  • Add the mushroom water and vegetable stock to the ragù and cook for another 1 1/2 hours.
  • Cook the pasta in abundant, salted water, then strain and mix with the ragù in a large bowl.
  • Drizzle the pasta with EVOO and top with grated Pecorino.

Note: If you really cannot find malloreddus, you can use other types of short pasta like conchiglie, orecchiette, elbows... Do not go as small as orzo, though, or it will turn into a sad slop of a dish. 

Another note: The original recipe was for a beef ragù, but I made it with veal and pork and even with turkey, and it always turned out great. And at this point, you can use it for anything you want,  from pasta to lasagne to chili to the Sloppy Joe of you life. 


And since we're making pasta, let's refresh our basic pasta skills:


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

SPIDERMAN, SPIDERMAN...

Forgive this silly post, but the entire family is sick and suffering from massive sleep deprivation, so this is the best I can do. As some of you may know, I am ambivalent about superheroes and their unironic stronghold on the contemporary male psyche. I really hope children will grow less obsessed than their fathers with high-flying musclemen dealing with unresolved childhood traumas. To speed up the process, I've started my own little campaign of placing superheroes into a more rational perspective. It all began when I revealed to my Italian nephew that the name Wolverine is not a play on the word "wolf", but it refers to an actual skunk-like species whose name in Italian is gulo gulo, which sounds a lot like "ass ass". He was crushed, but I believe for the better.

Today, I'm making sure that my son's budding admiration for Spiderman is kept in check with this little song. To be administered three times a day for two weeks, at monthly intervals.


Spiderman theme song, revisited.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

YOU'RE READING MY DIARY

PHILOSOPHY

As I approach the mid-point of my journey on this planet (take that euphemism), I am starting to question more and more the meaning of it all, and what should be my line of conduct for the rest of my life. I know I've abandoned the staunch idealism of my youth, but I'm also wary of the comfy judgementalism of old age. So I have come to my personal conclusion. Presently, I have been trying to live according to the Buddhist precepts of "letting go" and "releasing the ego", which I combined in my personal mantra of "letting myself go". Which brings me to the next point.


BARRE NONE

As long as I can remember, I've done all I could to avoid physical exertion. Sweating and toiling for the sole purpose of sweating and toiling always sounded absurd to me, and a long time ago I decided the best exercise would be walking briskly because I was late for stuff. It worked, until I had kids. After my second pregnancy, I found myself as strong, nimble, and quick as an octogenarian toad. So last week I appealed to the last bit of energy in my atrophied muscles and signed up for a barre class. Cursory research told me that barre is an exercise inspired by ballet and Pilates, and pictures showed slender, smiling women in yoga pants gracefully holding a ballet barre and keeping a perfect posture. More importantly, none of them was covered in sweat. It looked dreamy. Well, I had my first class on Sunday, and please know I'm in physical pain even now as I type this. Barre is not easy. There was a moment where I had to sit on an invisible chair with my back against the wall while opening and closing my legs for what I'm pretty sure was 45 minutes (okay, maybe 3). I was shaking like something powered by a steam engine and I was pretty sure my kneecaps would pop out and my ligaments would roll out in the air like curly ribbon on a gift box. I had none of the grace and poise I was envisioning, I was sweating through every pore, and every single time the instructor was not looking I would flop down on the floor like a sorry, empty tutu. All that said, I'm not giving up. Even with all the pain and humiliation, my barre class is an excused absence from my house. I'll take it.


VIDEO TUTORIALS = UKULELE

For many reason that may or may not include my clumsiness and lack of manual skills, I watch a lot of video tutorials in my spare time. One thing I cannot explain is the directors' over-reliance on upbeat ukulele music (like this), the kind you are also likely to hear on most tech gadget commercials. Actually, it's not so much that I don't understand it as I hate it. Really, it makes my nerves jump out of my skin. I don't know exactly why... I suspect it might be a reaction to the current infantilization of everything and the modern penchant for unthreatening cuteness. I promise, though: If I ever make a video tutorial, the soundtrack will be this.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A YEAR IN PARENTING

Is it Spring already? No, it isn't, but we're getting there, right? Aren't we??? If I sound desperate, it's because I am. I have spent the entire winter indoors trying to keep my children entertained yet safe while throwing Cheerios at them at hourly intervals. I may have survived, but barely. The only thing that has kept me mentally stable has been googling diagramming apps, an old passion of mine. So here are four pie charts to summarize the seasonal activities of average parents. If someone ever asks you, "What do you do all day?", then show them these.

How parents spend their Spring

How parents spend their Summer
How parents spend their Fall
How parents spend their Winter








Tuesday, March 10, 2015

FOOL ME TWICE: 2 KIDS UNDER 3 (Part II)


Here is the second installment of the lessons I've learned as a mother of 2 kids under the age of 3. (Here you can find Part I.)  My chidren, MiniBee and MicroBee are now 4 and (almost) 18 months, which means I'm still in the trenches, but breathing some, too. I hope some of these thoughts are going to help parents about to embark on the double-parenting adventure, although I know very well that everything you are reading here you will forget within minutes of your second birthing experience. Good luck!

NAPS

You are surely wondering how on earth you will be able to have two children nap at the same time or at different times of the day. I have no solution for you, I'm afraid. Having two children following two different napping routines is olympically challenging. A classic two-hour routine right after birth saw me nursing MicroBee to sleep while listening to MiniBee trashing the living room downstairs, then drag an overexcited MiniBee to his room and read him stories for 45 minutes so that I could finally leave the room only to hear MicroBee waking up from is nap. I would then pick MicroBee up and be greeted downstairs by MiniBee announcing he would not nap that day. So my advice is, do whatever you can. It will be over someday, somehow.

DUMBING DOWN FOR ALL

When you had your first child, you spent all of your energies crafting the perfect amount of quality mental stimulation to be balanced with strict routines and a plenty of nurturing affection. Your first child is a genius with massive potential in practically all areas. As soon as the second comes along, all comes to a halt. I'm sorry to tell you this, but now that you're a family of four, your youngest will drag you all to his/her own level, nullifying all of your previous efforts. You are exhausted, and all you can muster is going through the motions of the simplest activity that will make the youngest happy. In my case, it's banging toy cars together. (You will always choose to cater to the one who screams the most and is closest to your ears.)

POTTY MOUTH

When your oldest child turns four, s/he will enter the horrifying stage of potty mouth, during which s/he is going to repeat swearing you say at home together with mystifying coinages s/he will pick up from other children (welcome to "fart sauce"). At the same time, your youngest will be the impressionable toddler dealing with his or her first words. You will then enjoy having a toddler whose only words are "mom", "dad", "shit", and "stupid". I can tell you there are not a lot of good sentences coming out from this.

THE IRONY OF "THE GOOD OLD DAYS"

You will think back at those days when you were only dealing with your first and wonder what the fuck you were complaining about. When you have a second, the idea of having to deal with one tantrum, one meal, one potty-training disaster will sound like being transported into your early 20s on a solo vacation to a Caribbean paradise. Of course, this doesn't mean you start judging parents with only one child. You are just gaining some very much needed perspective. Sometimes you'll even go as far as thinking that, if you had three children, then the two you have would look like a stroll in the park. But that's usually when I slap myself really hard on the face.


Read Fool Me Twice, 2 Kids Under 3 (Part I).

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

FOOL ME TWICE: 2 KIDS UNDER 3 (Part I)

Text image, "The best things in life require a babysitter."
My oldest (MiniBee) turned 4 recently, and my youngest (MicroBee) is two months shy of 18 months, which means that at some point I did have 2 kids under 3 to take care of. It might be the biggest cliché ever, but time did fly since MicroBee was born, and today I look at this tall, brooding preschooler and this dancing, dumpster-diving toddler and I can't believe they are my sons. So I decided to stop and think about what a crazy roller-coaster the past two years have been, and which lessons I've learned that can be passed to future parents of 2 under 3. Here is Part I!

SECOND PREGNANCY

Everybody knows that nobody cares about your second pregnancy, but you'll be surprised by how little you will care yourself. Personally, I could never remember how many weeks I was, I'd ask strangers at the supermarket whether smoked salmon was safe for me, and I started talking to the baby inside me only when they told me he was fucking breech (don't worry, I kept it somewhat civilized).


BOOKS

Being the compulsive parenting-book reader that I am, I was surprised by the lack of well-established manuals for parents with young children. How I am supposed to raise these kids without expert advice?!? The reason is very simple: No parent of a toddler has the time to read such manuals (and I suspect no parent has the time to write them, as well). And even the freaks like myself who sacrifice what little sleep they have to read parenting books usually know at this point that these books are a hoax and that everybody is just winging it 99% of the time.


OUTNUMBERED

Believe me, as much as my wonderful MicroBee is a beautiful smily angel from planet Happy, not a day passes that I don't ask my husband what we were smoking when we decided to have a second child. You might have two children on paper, but it will feel like you have half a dozen. In any case, you're outnumbered, even when your partner is around. The only way around this is to be perfectly organized, frantically stacked with supplies, and always ready to deliver the best possible response for every demand from your children. I guess what I'm saying is, good luck.

MOTHER'S ARMS

Children under three still like to be held and carried places, so it was no surprise to me that the arrival of a baby would only intensify this need. Your children will both need to be held, often at the same time, so there will be times where you're going to have to do that. Hopefully this will happen after your birthing stitches have been removed. It does make for some great photos of course. Smile, always, so at least one day you can pretend that it was not excruciatingly painful.


MOM BRAIN

If you think you had mom brain the first time, think again. Actually, you can't. Your head is now occupied by two massive yearly planners filled with information to be dealt with at all times. No personal reflection will ever be possible again, and memories from your youth will come in blurry flashes only during the deepest of sleep. (And a side note to this. The term "mom brain" is used to imply that mothers become stupider with the arrival of children, and nothing angers me more than hearing this. Mothers do not become stupid; they are simply flooded with a myriad of information of both mundane and critical importance. And even with the occasional slip-up they do a pretty damn good job with it regardless of the minutes that they sleep per day.)


Read Fool Me Twice: 2 Kids Under 3 (Part II).


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

MATCHA CHOCOLATE CAKE

Detail of matcha chocolate cake dusted in cocoa powder and powdered sugar

My oldest son, MiniBee, turned four (!) a couple of weeks ago, an event that was celebrated with friends and with a deluge of Venice Carnival sweets and a two-batch Pandecocco coconut cake. A couple of days later, we also had a smaller family celebration that required yet another birthday cake. As any parent knows, children are only slightly more traditionalistic than the most conservative old-Europe grandparent, so there was no way MiniBee could hear the words "happy birthday" without blowing on proper candles on a proper cake. I needed a recipe, and I remembered one for Chocolate Matcha Bundt Cake from Bakerella (of the infamous cake pops) that had been sitting patiently on my Evernote for at least three years. I love matcha and I enjoyed it in many versions on my 2009 food pilgrimage to Japan, and I especially love how it couples lusciously with chocolate. It all started when a friend gave me an assortment of fancy chocolates that contained a matcha-chocolate combination that was one of the highlights of my life as an eater.

Now, someone could argue that matcha is a risky choice for a preschooler's birthday cake, and I can definitely tell you that when MiniBee heard his birthday cake was made with TEA, he was not at all pleased. But, in rebuttal to any concerns and objections I have two points to make:

1. Children will eat any cake that's placed in front of them, especially when decorated with birthday candles.

2. It doesn't matter whose birthday is it: If I'm baking or buying a cake, I need to like it first.

The second point is actually a corollary of my favorite parenting rule:







Substitute "wear" with "eat" and "oxygen mask" with "damn cake" and you'll see what I mean.

But back to matcha. For the cake, I used some unsweetened matcha powder I bought at HMart. And since the party was attended only by five people, I decided against the Bundt format and made a simple layer cake instead, halving the ingredients and making a couple of variations (more egg, less sugar, and my trusted addition of plain yogurt to guarantee a moist texture). I also suspect the matcha-chocolate combination works best in a slimmer cake. What can I say? I think it's classier this way. And as someone who wears German slippers all year round and whose every food contains 15% dog hair, let me tell you: I KNOW CLASS.

The final matcha chocolate cake was delicious, sweet and grassy and elegant (disclaimer: see my standards above), and perfect to be enjoyed with or without children.

Oh, if you wonder about MiniBee: He had two slices and was happy as a clam. And so was I.



MATCHA CHOCOLATE CAKE

Ingredients

Chocolate Mixture
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup baking cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Matcha Mixture
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tbsp unsweetened matcha
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Wet Ingredients
1 C sugar
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
2 eggs
3/4 C milk
1/2 C yogurt
1/2 tsp vanilla

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Grease and flour a 9'' springform pan. You can also line it with parchment paper if you prefer.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the chocolate mixture.
  • In another small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the matcha mixture.
  • In yet another bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer, then add the rest of the wet ingredients.
  • Divide the wet ingredients evenly between the two flour mixtures, stirring until combined.
  • Pour the two mixtures into the pan. Bakerella suggests doing this in tablespoons to maintain the two colors vibrant. I poured half mixture at a time and then swirled them with my finger.
  • Bake for 45–50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Let rest of 10 minutes and dust with cocoa powder and powdered sugar.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

VENICE CARNIVAL: FRITTELLE & GALANI

Trays with sweets typical of Venice Carnival: Frittelle, Galani e Castagnole
Today is Mardi Gras, which is the day of the year I traditionally spend sobbing in my pajamas because of homesickness. The reason? In Venice, today is the end of Carnevale ("Carnival" in English, if you seriously need a translation), my favorite celebration of all, and the one I miss the most since I've moved to the United States. Venice Carnival has been synonymous with great fun and great food since I was born. As a little girl, the fun consisted of wearing my chosen costume on multiple occasions—Venice Carnival lasts a little over two weeks—at school, on strolls around my town or in Venice, and at children's birthday parties. During each outing, us kids were allowed to throw confetti in each other's eyes and then litter the streets with colorful serpentine throws. To make things even more interesting, the right princess or pirate costume could grant you multiple fiancés by the age of 9. As a teenager and then young adult, the fun was pretty much the same, but it happened at night and was quite a bit boozier.

Now let's talk about the food. During Carnival, bakeries and pastry shops in Venice and the rest of the Veneto region start churning out an avalanche of amazing fried sweets, namely frittelle, galani, and castagnole. Venetians of all ages stuff their faces with these beloved sweets at all hours of the day. Let's see them in detail:

  • Frittelle are little sweet and soft doughnuts with raisins and pine nuts and sometimes filled with crema pasticcera (pastry cream) or zabaione, and dusted in granulated or powedered sugar. They are the Holy Grail of Venice Carnival foods.
  • Galani are paper-thin rectangles of lighlty-sweetened dough, deep-fried and dusted with powdered sugar.
  • Castagnole are small round fried cookies very similar to shortbread. For some reason, they are the least popular among Carnival sweets, even though they are completely delicious in their own right. I am afraid they are unfairly obscured by their high-performing cousins (a phenomenon I will now call "Unfair Eclipse Syndrome").

To lessen my desperate homesickness and to share a little of the joy of Venice Carnival with my insatiable children, a couple of years ago Mr Bee and I started to make all these sweets at home with acceptable results. This year, however, we knocked one out of the proverbial ballpark by finally landing two perfect recipes for frittelle and galani that I want to share with you today. Get a Carnival mask on, hang some streamers around your house, gather friends and love interests, and deep-fry these gems: This is the closest you're going to get to my beloved Venice Carnival.

You can read more information about the history of Venice Carnival in this post I wrote for Multicultural Kid Blogs

Venetian Carival Frittelle, with and without custard filling

FRITTELLE WITH CREMA

Makes 20–25 frittelle. Just remember crema is optional: Frittelle are amazing on their own.
Ingredients for crema pasticcera
1/2 quart of milk (I would not use non-fat here)
lemon rind of half a lemon, cut in one piece (use a vegetable peeler)
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch

Ingredients for frittelle

oil for frying
1 ¼ cups water
pinch of salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp sugar (that's right)
1 ½ cups flour
6 eggs
orange rind (grated)
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup raisins
¼ pine nuts
oil for frying
granulated or powdered sugar for coating


Directions

Make the crema pasticcera
  • Pour the milk in a saucepan, add the lemon rind, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat off and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • In a bowl, whisk the egg yolk with the sugar together until pale yellow and fluffy.
  • Add the cornstarch to the egg mixture and stir together.
  • Remove the lemon rind from the milk, and pour the milk slowly into the egg mixture, stirring to prevent clumps.
  • Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and let it thicken on low-medium heat until it reaches a creamy consistency. The crema will continue to thicken, so leave it somewhat runny.
  • Let the crema cool down before using.

Make the frittelle
  • Place water, butter, salt, and sugar in a small pan and bring to a boil.
  • Add all the flour all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan to form a ball. This takes less than a minute.
  • Let the dough cool, then add one egg at a time. Make sure each egg is incorporated into the dough before adding another one. (I’d use a electric mixer here, if possible. Unless you enjoy the arm workout, of course.)
  • Mix in the the rest of the ingredients.
  • Heat oil to 370* degrees and fry the dough in small balls (use two spoons) for 5–6 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked throughout. Note that frittelle will first puff a little and then puff up even more after a couple of minutes of more.
  • Roll frittelle into granulated sugar or dust with powdered sugar.
  • When cool, fill the frittelle with about a tablespoon of crema pasticcera each, depending on size. I used a whipped-cream syringe similar to this one but way crappier. If you don't have a syringe, I guess that you can cut the frittelle open and fill them with a tablespoon of cream.
*The usual optimal frying temperature is 375, but that cooked our dough too quickly so it was burned on the outside and still raw on the inside. Five degrees made all the difference!

A tray filled with Venetian Carnival Galani


GALANI
Ingredients

oil for frying

4 eggs
4 cups flour
2 tbsp butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup sparkling water
grated lemon rind from one lemon
a pinch of salt
2 tbsp grappa (optional)
2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions


  • Mix the flour, sugar, and butter together until coarsely combined. You might want to use an electric mixer for this part, otherwise use your hands and be quick.
  • Add the eggs, lemon rind, and salt, Grappa and vanilla and mix.
  • Add sparkling water as needed and a little at a time until the dough becomes soft and stretchy. It should resemble fresh pasta dough, if that helps.
  • Cover the dough and let it rest for an hour.
  • Roll out the dough with a roller (champion) or with a pasta machine, going up to the smallest setting so that galani are paper-thin. If you've never used a pasta machine before, check out these instructions.
  • Cut dough into large rectangles with a pasta cutter. (Parents of young children: I couldn't find mine once so I used a Play-doh cutter.) Rectangles should be about 2x4'', but can be VERY irregular, so don't worry too much about it. 
  • Place rectangles on a floured kitchen towel.
  • Fry the galani in 375 degree oil for a few seconds, or until slightly colored and puffed up. 
  • Let rest on paper towels and dust with powdered sugar. Galani last beautifully for 2–3 days in a dry climate.