This is a very special time of the year for all Italian children: it is “Carnevale”. It is the time to dress up as a princess or a super hero and go around town to play tricks on people or throw coriandoli (round shaped paper confetti) in the air. There are many famous Carnevali in Italy (Venice, Viareggio, Ivrea, Putignano…), but Carnevale is celebrated all over the country: big cities and small villages all have their own Carnevale, with parades, parties, music… This is one of the special occasions that I miss the most… especially when I think that my girls will not get to enjoy such a nice time and follow the floats with other children singing and dancing. I also have to admit that I have always liked this festivity as it usually comes around my birthday… in fact, I have had many birthday parties where the theme was “Carnavale” and all my friends would be in a costume. But back to our main subject… FOOD. Carnevale is traditionally linked to the Catholic religion and in the past it used be the last period of time when you were allowed to eat meat, before entering Quaresima (Lent) that would lead to Easter. During Lent, you are supposed to fast or at least give up on something you like as a penance to honour the death of Christ. So… Carnevale used to be a time where people would eat a lot, preparing themselves for the time of fasting. There are many traditional sweets that we eat for this occasion. Among my favourite are chiacchiere, thin rectangular pieces of fried dough covered with lots of icing sugar. I have made my grandma’s recipe for my girls and they loved it. Here is the recipe for chiacchiere.
- 500 gms flour
- 4 eggs
- 50 gms butter at room temperature
- 100 gms sugar
- 1 lemon zest
- 4 tbsp white wine
- 4 tbsp grappa or rum or marsala
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 sachet of "Vanillina" vanilla powder or a splash of vanilla extract (optional)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Vegetable oil for deep frying
Put the flour, butter, sugar, eggs, grappa (or other liquor), white wine, lemon zest, Vanillina (or vanilla extract), baking powder and salt in a mixer with a dough hook and knead for a couple of minutes, till the dough looks smooth. It must feel soft and elastic when you touch it. If you do not have a mixer, you can knead all the ingredients by hand for 5 to 10 minutes.
Make a ball with the kneaded dough, dust it with flour, cover it with a clean tea towel and set it aside to rest for 30 minutes.
Then knead it again with your hand for a couple of minutes and divide it into smaller balls. Roll each small ball into a very thin sheet (about 1 mm). I use a pasta machine to do it and I put the knob to “6” (which gives a very thin dough). If you don’t have a pasta machine, you can roll the dough with a rolling pin.
You will now have a long and thin rectangular sheet of dough. Using a cutter, cut it into smaller rectangles (about 8x13 cm) and cut two extra parallel lines inside each rectangle. This is the traditional shape of chiacchiere, but you can get a little bit more creative with the shapes... I often do!
Deep fry them in batches in hot vegetable oil. When they become golden brown, take them out with a slotted spoon and put them on a tray layered with absorbing kitchen paper to drain the excess oil.
Once cold, sprinkle generously with icing sugar and enjoy them... Buon Carnevale!
Chiacchiere stay crisp for up to a week if put in an air tight container.