The word zeppoli is Italian dialect for zeppola (the plural is zeppole). Zeppoli are deep fried dough balls or fritters that can be made savory or sweet and are often made on Saint Joseph Day in various parts of Italy (made specifically as as sfinge or a cake on March 19th).
Our family, which hails from Calabria, prepares zeppoli as a savory bread during the Christmas holiday (primarily on New Year’s Eve and Day). We make a plain and a fish filled variety with salty anchovy (click here for my introduction to anchovy ).Italian-American’s have come to embrace and love zeppoli and most Americans prepare the fried delicacy as a sweet topped with powdered sugar (found, for example, at Italian American street festivals or feasts). At times, zeppoli are refereed to as funnel cake, Italian doughnuts, etc. In Italy, zeppoli are consumed mostly south of Rome (specifically, in Naples, Sicily, and Calabria).
I’ve always loved zeppoli especially when made fresh and served piping hot from the fryer. Some of my fondest memories include frying zeppoli in my grandmother’s, New Jersey, basement on New Year’s Eve morning. The following recipe is derived from Nonna Rosa Scordo.
A few readers have asked if the associated sfinge is similar to zeppole. The short answer is that sfinge seem to be a sweet fried product that is often sprinkled with honey, sugar, or cinnamon. Sfinge batter also differs in that it contains ricotta, sugar, and vanilla.
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- Salt (1 pinch)
- 3/4 cups of water
- 1 package of dry yeast
- Anchovy fillets (optional)
- 6-7 cups of soybean or corn oil
Combine and mix the flour, salt, yeast, and water in a large bowl. Thereafter allow the dough to rest and rise for 2-2.5 hours; the dough should be soft to the touch (remember you’re not making bread dough which is usually a bit firmer). At this point you’re reading to shape your zeppoli which is simply pulling the dough into individual pieces. Place a single anchovy, if desired, into the center of your zeppola and fold dough over to make a ball. As with any recipe that include deep drying heat your oil to roughly 350ºF (use a large pot) Carefully drop the zeppoli into the hot oil and cook until golden brown (making sure to turn the dough balls to ensure even cooking). Consume the zeppoli immediately, preferably with homemade wine (click here for my guide to making homemade wine).