March has always been one of my favourite months. Winter is almost over, the days are slowly growing longer and there is no pressure to buy presents unlike Christmas, Easter or Valentine’s Day.
But there’s also another reason to love March: the frittelle di San Giuseppe. On 19th March, the first day of Spring equinox, every family in Italy celebrates the day of Saint Joseph or Fathers’ Day, la festa del Papa’. In many towns, particularly in the countryside, bonfires are lit to sign the end of the cold and the dark and, in the north of Italy, leftover rice kept in larders during the Winter are used to make little cakes to celebrate the day and to end the forty days of Lent.
These little fried rice balls are sold by street vendors as well as in the bars and cafes in Siena and Il Campo, which despite its huge size retains all the fragrance of vanilla and orange when they are being made. The fritelle are still served in a paper cone and heavily snowed with icing sugar. I would not worry about calorific intake because as soon as your teeth break that fragrant crust to then find a soft heart of rice all your thoughts on weight will vanish.
This rice version is totally typical of Siena, many other variations of course exist. Florentines, for example fills them with custard, Neapolitans (who call them zeppole) make them out of dough and fill them with pastry cream or a butter-and-honey mixture. You will fall in love with these delicate, lightly golden rice balls that you will find yourself licking your fingers by the time you get to the end of the paper cone.
My mother has never missed a single year in making frittelle. And as you need to make the rice mixture the night before, I love sneaking into the kitchen after dinner and stealing some of the sticky rice already full of orange and vanilla flavour.
500g pudding rice
2 litres of water
2 pinches of salt
Rind of 1 orange
1/2 spoon of vanilla seeds
5 tbsp caster sugar
250ml frying oil
First boil the rice in the water in a saucepan, adding the salt and the orange rind. When the water starts starts boiling, add the sugar and vanilla, mix well and then lower the heat and let the rice cook gently until all the water has been absorbed. The rice grains will begin to stick together and form a lump in the saucepan. Leave the rice to set over night somewhere cool and covered.
At the time of preparing the frittelle, add the flour to the rice and mix well. With the help of a tea spoon, take small balls of rice mixture and drop them in the hot oil and let the frittelle fry, turning them regularly with a slotted spoon until they have a golden colour.
Drain the frittelle and leave them on a plate with kitchen paper. Sprinkle them with icing sugar immediately. My advice is to make a few at the time so that you can enjoy them, as they should be, very hot.
Francesca Re Manning’s Blog www.asaucepanandasuitcase.blogspot.com
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