Pizzelle, fried small (ish) pizzas, are iconic and beloved Neapolitan street food whose strong hold on Italian popular culture has been assured for ever by being the protagonists of a legendary sketch in the movie L’oro di Napoli (The gold of Naples, 195 ) where a young and voluptuous Sophia Loren plays a flirtatious pizzaiola, a pizza maker, whose pizzelle as well as her prosperous bosom are legendary in the neighbourhood. As she fries the pizzelle she shouts: “…Scialate…scialate…Mangiate oggi e pagate fra otto giorni…” (Enjoy…enjoy…eat now and pay in 8 days’ time…”).
They are also firmly rooted in local home cooking though. As a kid, I used to spend a couple of weeks every summer in Salerno, not far from Naples and I clearly remember pizzelle being prepared by relatives: what a feast, for a little Milanese kid, whose mother was a reluctant cook and who would never embark in any deep frying. My aunt’s pizzelle were simply dressed with a a little tomato sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan: stuck one on top of the other, they would be kept warm in the oven, ready to be devoured with gusto after an exhausting morning at the beach -they are amongst my strongest food memories.
Stacking one pizzella on top to the other is also what Jeanne Carola Francesconi, the doyenne of Neapolitan cooking, recommends in her book and whose recipe I have followed here. Francesconi gives two recipes for pizzelle dough: a standard bread dough and one using mashed potatoes, alongside flour, water and yeast. This is what I used and the pizzelle turned out incredibly light and fluffy. I have slightly altered Francesconi’s recipe by adding a little whole meal flour, cutting down the yeast and opting for an overnight proofing in the fridge.
Potato dough for pizzelle
I prepared the dough the night before and I let it proof in the refrigerator. I took the little dough balls out of the fridge two hours before frying and let them come back to room temperature before proceeding.
Francesconi, in pure Italian home cooking style, does not specify how much water the dough requires and right she is, because each flour absorbs liquid differently. On top of this, potato dough is tricky: it looks crumbly and dry one minute, wet and unmanageable the next, if you are too generous with the water. Caution is the key: once the potatoes are incorporated, add the water little by little. When there are no dry patches visible, even if the dough might still feel a little too firm, stop and let the dough rest for thirty minutes (a sort of autholyse)., covered by a damp towel. During this time the flour will absorb moistness from the potatoes and becomes softer After this rest, check the dough: it will be considerably more supple. but a little water if you feel it need it. Knead the dough for few minutes, until it is smooth.The dough should feel slightly tacky.
540 g white bread flour
60 g wholemeal bread flour
12 g salt
200 g mashed potatoes, at room temperature
2 g instant dried yeast (or 6 grams fresh yeast)
½ teaspoon sugar
water at room temperature (I used the water in which the potatoes were boiled), about 300 ml
Mix the flours, salt , sugar, yeast and potatoes.
When the mix resembles crumbs, start adding the water, as described above. Check the consistency of the dough: it should be soft, a little tacky perhaps. Knead if for about 5 minutes. Let it proof, covered, for 30 minutes.
Portion the dough. Franesconi says these quantities make six pizzelle, I decided to go for smaller portions and divided the dough into 10 pieces, which were then shaped into little balls.
Place them on a parchment-lined tray, brush them with olive oil, cover with cling film and refrigerate until the following day (12-18 hrs). Needless to say, you could also make and proof the dough in one day: this is what Francesconi does, using a whopping 25 g fresh yeast (equivalent to 8 g instant dried yeast), which I do find incredibly excessive (I would still use 2 g of instant dried yeast: the proofing time would stretch over 5-6 hrs, in a warm spot, like a turned off oven, where I would have placed a mug full of boiling water).
If you opted for the refrigerated dough, remove it from the fridge two-three hours before you are ready to fry the Meanwhile prepare a simple tomato sauce and grate some parmigiano.
On a floured surface flatten out the balls of dough into disks about 12-15 cm in diameter, making sure that the edge, the cornicione, is thicker. Prick the centre with the prongs of a fork. Place each pizzetta on a floured surface and carry on with the remaining balls.
Heat up your frying vessel with oil: I used vegetable oil, about a couple of liters. When the oil has reached 180 C it is ready.
Fry one or two pizzelle at a time, making sure to keep them submerged in the oil and to press their centre with a spoon: this will create a hollow and will prevent the pizzelle to puff up too much.
When they are golden, remove them on a tray, lined with kitchen paper. Spoon a little tomato sauce, sprinkle with parmesan and add a little basil.. Keep them warm in a low oven, with the door slightly ajar. as I said, it is customary to stack one pizzelle on top of the other.
Pizzelle are also delicious in bianco, that is without tomatoes: just a sprinkle of parmesan and a snippet of olive oil preserved anchovy fillet
Here are contemporary versions of pizzella fritta: you will see that sometimes pizzelle are made by enclosing the filling in a dough cloak, that is traditional too