Above you can see what a typical morning in early February is like while Venice is getting ready for the day ahead. Baking fritole doesn’t take too long, so while taking a coffee and waiting for the fog to lift, we spend some time looking up all the recipes for fritole. And there are many of these, ancient ones, and the original recipe.
While going through grandmother’s recipe journals, I can just marvel at the incredible amount of recipes for sweets and cakes Venice has to offer. Most of these recipes are easy, and this is also true for one of the oldest recipe of sweet Venice has inherited from the past, la fritoa. Call them frittelles in English, and frittelle in Italian, while in Venetian we call them fritola or fritoa.
Every family in Venice has developed their own version of this staple sweet. Venetians ate their staple winter sweets even after the fall of the Republic, and there are some recipes that look and taste like a mixture of frittelles and other cakes made with yeast, like the Austrian krafen.
Our family has a special recipe for frittelles as well, fritoe al suco de naransa, which are fritole flavored with juicy oranges, which are now in season, not only at the Rialto market, but also in some gardens here in Venice! In addition to freshly pressed orange juice, we use a spice mixture to flavor our frittelles, and there’s a good reason we do it. After all, Carnival takes place in late winter when fresh vegetables are scarce in the Lagoon just like in other parts of Italy. Spices were used to keep healthy in the past in a natural way, and even more in winter. This is one reason why originally, fritoe were flavored with saffron and rose-water or with spices. Of course, this was also done because Venetians came across this original version of yeast cakes in Damascus in the 12th century which tasted delicious!
With so many fritoe variants available in Venice, the question is, which ones were eaten during Carnival at the times of the Serenissima Republic, and where can we still taste them in Venice?
The first fritole, fried in Venice in the 12th century, still showed the influence of Middle Eastern cooking, where the Venetian merchants, on their voyages along the “spice routes”, came across these fried pastries, enriched with raisins, pine nuts and blossom syrups. So yes, these original fritole, le veneziane, were flavored with rose-water! In our times, you can find frittelles called le veneziane flavored with lemon peel or grappa. Sometimes, they are filled with sweet cream flavored with cinnamon, or with zabaione, an invention of the 19th century.
In the late 18th century, in any case before the fall of the Republic of Venice, a black frittelle (flavored with lots of cocoa, a special spice mix and often, grappa or liquor), was created. And in the 18th century, when the first coffee houses opened in Venice, frittelles were served there, and on the streets of Venice. For frittelles became the favorite Venetian winter street food as well.
And these days in Venice, you could also taste the fritola cubana, flavored with rum, which is a rather new creation, because the Venetians of the past didn’t use rum but grappa.. It works in any case to keep you warm while walking around in the most winter weather. I tasted la cubana at Pasticceria Bonifacio, in Calle Albanesi, just to corners and one bridge from Piazza San Marco.
I also saw fritole alle mele – fritole with little pieces of apple. Historically speaking, these are NOT frittelles eaten during Carnival, but during Lent. It seems that these frittelles were invented by the nuns of the monastery of San Zaccaria, another story we will tell soon on our blog.
To prepare fritoe a la naransa, you need 200 gr flour, one teaspoon cinnamon, a hint of salt, one egg, 3 teaspoons yeast, 10 gr pine nuts, 10 gr sultanas, 50 gr sugar, two heaped tablespoons vanilla sugar, one heaped tablespoon of zuccero all’arancio (orange-flavored sugar which we make a home, by grating the peel of one orange and mixing it with cane sugar), one spoonful lavender water and three spoonfuls freshly pressed orange juice.
Mix all ingredients in a bowl, dissolve the yeast in another bowl in 200 ml warm milk. Carefully add the milk to the dough and leave it to rest and rise in a warm place, for another hour. Heat sunflower or olive oil in a pan, make tiny balls of dough with a spoon and fry they until golden brown. Leave the frittelles to drain on kitchen paper. After a few minutes, sprinkle them with the orange sugar.
If we really have no time to make frittelles at home, we buy ours at the bakery on Campo San Luca, Colussi Il Fornaio. It’s one of my favorites, not just for fritole but also to buy focaccia and panettón :)8