Frittelle di Riso
They have a saying that I love in Tuscany, “Fritta è bona anche una ciabatta,” which means even a slipper is good deep fried (in other words, anything is good if it’s deep fried). Fried foods are a beloved part of Tuscan cuisine, whether it’s the fritto misto of the seaside (a “mix” of calamari, baby octopus, prawns and little fish, usually), the fritto of the countryside (rabbit and seasonal vegetables like artichokes – my favourite) or traditional, festive sweets like cenci (“rags” of fried pastry) and these dangerous frittelle di riso, rice fritters. They’re dangerous because you should never be left in a room alone with them, somehow they’ll all end up in your belly.
You don’t want to be alone when you’re cooking these either because like anything deep fried, they’re best eaten when still hot and crisp, so it means that you’ll have to eat all of them yourself. It may seem like a good idea at the time but you will regret it. And since they really don’t keep well (once cold they turn soggy and the icing sugar melts away), cook these when you have people around and you can share them. These fritters, which you can think of as essentially deep fried blobs of rice pudding, are light and fluffly and absolutely moreish but deceptively filling.
A popular sweet for carnival, frittelle di riso are found in Tuscan bakeries even beyond carnival time, right up to March 19 – la festa del papà, Italian Father’s Day and St Joseph’s day. Aside from being the exemplar father, St Joseph is also the patron saints of friers (yep, that’s those that fry things, not a misspelling of friars). So it seems an auspicious day to be frying up a traditional batch of these sweet, plump, soft fritters for your babbo (what Tuscans call their papà).
In this case, however, it’s babbo who made this batch of fritters. I’m not a confident frier myself, always worried about the mess, what to do with the oil afterwards, not getting the temperature right and ending up with a too-browned outside and raw centre – so I leave the frying up to my husband Marco. Naturally, being Tuscan, he loves to find any excuse to deep fry things (these wild garlic fritters came out a treat). I had never taken much notice of holidays like the festa del papà and before becoming parents 11 and a half weeks ago, frittelle were just frittelle. Any excuse to eat them was a good excuse. But now we have an even better one, even if it is for just one day of the year. Happy first festa del papà, to my wonderful man, a passionate cook, courageous fryer and adoring father.
This is one of Artusi’s recipes for frittelle di riso – he lists two in his 1891 cookbook Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. This one appealed because it is the simpler of the two and didn’t involve yeast, but instead asks for stiffly beaten egg whites as the rising agent. It’s a less common version but one I love, they’re softer and fluffier than the standard frittelle di riso. Artusi dusts with icing sugar but today you usually find them rolled in regular sugar, which gives a lovely crunch as you bite down into these puffy little pillows of creamy rice.
Frittelle di Riso di Artusi
Artusi’s Rice fritters
Makes about 20
- 100 gr short grain rice
- 500 ml milk
- 1 tbs butter
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tbs sugar
- pinch of salt
- splash of rum
- 50 gr flour
- 3 eggs, separated
- vegetable oil for frying
- icing sugar (or regular sugar if you want the crunch)
Cook the rice in the milk over low heat, covered, carefully checking every now and then that it doesn’t burn or overflow – don’t take your eyes off it! When the milk has been mostly absorbed and rice is soft and over cooked (Artusi makes a point of saying it should be cooked moltissimo), take off the heat and stir through the butter, zest, sugar and pinch of salt.
Let cool, then add the rum, flour and the egg yolks, setting aside the whites for later. Combine thoroughly and allow the mixture to rest for several hours before using. When you’re ready to cook them, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks and carefully fold in to the rice mixture.
Drop spoonfuls of the batter into hot oil, fry until evenly golden brown then transfer to paper towels to drain the oil before dusting with icing sugar and serving – and eating – while still warm to your favourite Italian man!