Siena, outdoor location shots, winter.
The Sienese people, the University students and the few tourists that in this time of the year are forced to pass through the tiny shadowy back lanes usually tuck their hands down in their pockets to find some warmth and hide their face in a wool scarf of to protect themselves from the biting cold.
The sun can not reach with its warmth the alleys between the old medieval buildings, and so people walk faster, everyone with something urgent to do, friends to visit or appointments that can not be postponed.
Then you emerge in Piazza del Campo, the view opens in the shell-shaped square surrounded by red brick buildings, the sun finally breaks through and you are caught by an unusual smell.
From the beginning of Carnival to the 19th of March, St. Joseph, there’s a mixed smell of fried food and sugar in the thin winter air. This festive smell is due to the rice fritters stall, a wooden and mountain-like structure, which appears in the scenery of the Campo’s square for a month or so, selling those that to me are the most delicious rice fritters in the world.
In these cold days you find yourself queuing outside the fritters stall, clinging to each other, even though you don’t know your neighbour, just to keep you warm. When you finally reach the first place you ask smiling for 2 or 3 euros of fritters, with small change already in your hand not to waste time searching in your purse.
Inside the stall the pastry chefs fry relentlessly huge amount of fritters into giant pans placed over those that seem ancient cauldrons. They drop the fritters one by one into the steaming hot oil with such an incredible speed, given by experience and the long queue of people waiting for their turn.
Then come the rice fritters, coated with caster sugar and wrapped in a white paper cone. Finally it’s time to take off the gloves, with a defiant behaviour towards the air cold, and tuck the fingers into the paper bag to bring to the mouth a sticky sweet fritter.
Though very hot, they must be eaten immediately, to savour the crispy shell that quickly surrenders to a soft, smooth and extremely light rice heart.
These fritters have a very special place in my heart, maybe because you start eating them in winter and finish when it is almost spring, maybe because they remind me of a successful University exam celebrated with Laura, sitting in the sun and eating joyfully our fritters from the papercone!
Of course the recipe is secret: just to be honest, these fritters made in Siena are not related especially to Carnival but to Saint Joseph… this said, the Tuscan culinary tradition has delicious recipes for rice fritters to celebrate Carnival, so I tried to make a similare recipe using my Grandma’s recipe and mixing it with other recipes, one from Pellegrino Artusi and one from Giovanni Righi Parenti, just as I made for the Carnival fried dough last week.
- 1 litre of whole milk
- 150 g originario rice (pudding rice)
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar + sugar to coat fritters
- 3 eggs, egg whites and yolks separated
- finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon
- 3 tablespoons of rum
- 3 tablespoons flour
- about 500 ml of peanut oil or extra virgin olive oil for frying
- The night before. Pour the milk into a large pot and add the rice.
- Cook the rice uncovered over low heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, for at least 40 minutes until the rice becomes creamy and soft.
- Pour the rice into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap so it does not dry out and let it cool completely before storing it in the refrigerator overnight.
- The day after. Stir into the cold rice the egg yolks, the sugar, the lemon zest and the flour.
- Finally, fold in gently the whipped egg whites.
- Heat at least 3 inches of oil in a frying pan until it reaches 180°C. (*)
- Drop the rice fritters with a teaspoon into the hot oil, keeping them well separated. Make fritters no bigger than a walnut.
- Turn the pancakes with two ladles or two forks so that they become golden on all sides and get a spherical shape. Cook the fritters in more bathes, for about 5 minutes each time, and when ready put them in a dish with a few sheets of kitchen paper, so that it absorbs the excess oil.
- Serve them warm sprinkled with plenty of sugar.