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Venetians take their Mardi Gras very seriously. Known for the elaborate 18th century costumes and masks worn throughout the festivity, the Carnevale in Venice first took place in the year 1162. Venetian fritters, locally called frìtoe, are the gastronomic symbol of the Venice festivity.
Considered as the national dessert of the Venetian Republic, frìtoe date back to the Renaissance. Venetian fritters were once prepared in the street by the fritoleri at small wooden shacks and sold piping hot. The recipe of the time included lard instead of vegetable oil, goat’s milk and a pinch of saffron in the dough.
Then in the 1600s these proto-street food sellers formed an association that was composed of seventy members, each with their own jurisdiction area where they could exercise exclusive commercial activity, with the guarantee that only their children could inherit the business. As I said, Carnevale taken very seriously. This corporation of fritter fryers remained active until the fall of the Venetian Republic, but the art of the fritoleri disappeared definitively from the Venice streets only at the end of the 19th century.
Historians report that fritoleri used to knead the dough––then made of eggs, flour, sugar, sultanas and pine nuts––on large wooden tables. Then they’d fry them in lard or butter in huge pans propped on tripods over a blazing fire. Once ready, the frìtoe were dusted with sugar and placed on large decorated plates. Beside the serving trays there was always a display of ingredients used in order to underline the genuine nature of the pastry.
Throughout the Veneto region local recipes have evolved over time, straying from the original. Variations includes verisons made with battered fruit, flowers or vegetables, in some cases fritters are even made with wild grass and mountain herbs, and even others made with cooked rice and polenta. Frìtoe also influenced other cultures, so much so that the local Jewish community of Venice fries frittola ebraica, which is still prepared to this day for Purim.
With no further ado, here’s the recipe I managed to snag at Al Vecio Marangòn, a delightful little bàcaro in Dorsoduro whose owner, Signora Maria, was the one who first introduced me to frìtoe.
Ingredients (yields 6 servings)
400 g flour
100 g sultanas
1 tbsp. sugar
1 glass of whole milk, slightly warmed (not boiling)
1 shot glass of rum
30 g brewer’s yeast
A pinch of salt
Peanut oil for frying
Conferctioner’s sugar fror garnish
Rinse the sultanas and soak them in lukewarm water.
Crumble the yeast in a teacup and dissolve in 3 tablespoons of lukewarm water.
Sift the flour in a large bowl and mix in the sugar and a pinch of salt.
Drop in the eggs, pour in the rum and the dissolved brewer’s yeast.
Drain the sultanas and pat dry before adding them to the dough.
Mix with a wooden spoon, adding enough warm milk to obtain a thick, dense dough.
Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or a lid and let the dough proof, away from cold drafts, until double its volume.
Fill a large frying pan with plenty of peanut oil (the fritters should be able to float in the oil); when heated, fry spoonfuls of the dough in small batches.
Once they turn dark golden, fish out the frìtoe from the oil and place on kitchen paper to blot excess grease.
When ready to serve, dust with confectioners sugar, wear a Venetian mask and toss confetti around the room.
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, freelance food and travel writer, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her shows “ABCheese” and “Uazz’america” are broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso Channel. Her podcast “iCheese” is recorded live on the Radio Food Live network.