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For the Tucci family, a feast is not complete without one Italian staple. Zeppole are deep-fried doughnuts that Stanley Tucci calls “addictively delicious.”
While shooting “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy,” he met up with his Italian relatives in Calabria – the southwest “toe” of the Italian peninsula. They had cooked for days to prepare for the gathering and whipped up some of the family’s favorite dishes.
The beloved zeppole stole the show.
Similar to beignets but denser, these delectable morsels, which can be served as a savory appetizer or a sweet dessert alongside coffee, have always been a family hit.
“Whenever my mother would begin to fry them, the whole family would unconsciously start edging more and more closely to the stove until we were all huddled around her, practically panting with a hunger we didn’t know we had until she started cooking,” Tucci wrote in his memoir, “Taste.”
“As soon as they have cooled enough to handle, they are then devoured by anyone who can grab one the quickest,” he recalled in his book.
Italians often serve puffy and golden zeppole with a generous dusting of powdered sugar, but the Tucci family prefers a savory version, incorporating anchovies within the dough.
These Italian doughnuts have all sorts of variations: You can stuff them with salami and sprinkle with salt, or for a sweet version, fill them with cream, including hazelnut, chocolate or lemon, and cover in honey and chopped pistachios. Tucci has experimented with different toppings, including sautéed peppers and goat cheese, served alongside a green salad and beer.
Even the shape and size of this finger food varies from recipe to recipe.
Across the internet, there’s one consensus: They are best freshly fried. But as most Italians will tell you, you’ll gobble these Italian doughnuts up before they can cool.
This family recipe calls for frying in vegetable oil, but for a more traditional preparation, you can use olive oil. Look for 00 flour, which is finely ground Italian wheat flour, at online baking or Italian specialty stores.
¾ kilogram | 5 ¼ cups yellow potatoes, peeled and diced
½ kilogram | 4 cups flour plus more for surface, preferably type 00
15 grams | ¾ tablespoon table salt
12 ½ grams | 1 ½ tablespoons brewer’s yeast
60 milliliters | ¼ cup warm water
Oil-packed anchovies, drained, patted dry and diced, or diced salami (optional for savory)
Olive oil for frying
Powdered sugar or honey (optional for sweet)
Potato masher or potato ricer
Deep fryer or large pot
Deep-fry thermometer (optional)
1. Boil the potatoes in a large pot until they are soft, about 10 minutes. Drain and transfer potatoes to a large bowl and mash them with a potato masher while they’re still warm. (If using a potato ricer, load them in batches into the canister and extrude the potatoes into the bowl.) Combine ½ kilogram (or 4 cups) flour and salt with the mashed potatoes.
2. Dissolve the yeast in warm water to activate and then add it to the mixture.
3. Knead the ingredients together in the bowl until the mixture is a smooth, dry dough.
4. Cover with a cloth and let the dough rest until it has doubled in volume, about 3 hours.
5. When it has doubled in volume, turn the dough over onto a floured work surface. With wet hands, divide the dough into small pieces and form doughnut-shaped rings that are about ½-inch thick. You can adjust the size based on your personal preference.
For a savory version, add a couple of diced anchovy fillets or diced salami to the dough as you shape it if desired.
6. Pour the oil into a large saucepan to reach a depth of 5 centimeters (or 2 inches) and heat over medium heat. To check that the oil is hot enough, immerse a piece of dough; if it remains on the bottom, it is still cold. If the dough comes to the surface and fries, the oil is ready. If the oil becomes dark, then it is too hot, and you will have to lower the temperature by removing the saucepan from the heat. (Alternatively, heat oil until a deep-fry thermometer registers 149 degrees Celsius or 300 degrees Fahrenheit.)
7. Fry the doughnuts in small batches, turning them over halfway, until they are puffy and golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes total. With a slotted spoon, transfer doughnuts to a plate layered with absorbent paper towel for a few seconds to soak up the excess oil. Change the oil halfway through frying.
8. Serve hot. You can eat them plain or with toppings, if desired. For a sweet version, add powdered sugar or honey to the warm zeppole.
This recipe is courtesy of the Ventra family (relatives of Tucci).
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