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Street Food Italy - Crispelle di Riso di San Giuseppe by Al Fangano

We are hopping over the pond again. This time into the land of one of rich history the most spectacular empires, the Roman Empire with a cuisine is the much beloved across the world - Italy!!

The history of Italy reflects in it's wide range of cuisine across various regions much as it does in India. The North and the South are distinct and very individualistic. From the bold, meaty flavors of the Roman food to the fresh, light seafood preparations down by the heel, there is a wide spectrum for the palate.

Today, I am thrilled to have Al, share a gem from his native land. A sicilian, now living in Germany, an astrophysicist by education and an artist at heart, he is indeed a true reflection of Italy ;-). His blog, Recipe Taster, constantly surprises me with unique flavor combinations and beautifully presented dishes. As he himself puts it, he does not recreate, he re-envisions!! :)

So, without further ado...Crispelle di Riso di San Giuseppe.


From the streets of Sicily a sticky and sweet comfort food

Crispelle di riso

"Even an old shoe sole would be tasty if Fried!" my mother uses to say and honestly, how many yummy street food start their journey from a pot of bubbling oil?
Oil, butter, ghee are such great ingredients in our pantry. Great carrier of flavors, oil doubles as a straightforward way to improve our mood at the dinner table.

Fried cutlets, French fries, potato croquettes, spring rolls, eggplant parmigiana all have in common a fast bath in hot oil; long enough to crisp up their outside but maintain their interior moist and succulent.

Yes fried food is unhealthy and all that mumbo jumbo, the more time they spend researching into our tasty food the more they will find things that are unhealthy. For instance, did you know that tarragon has a compound that has been proven to be carcinogenic even in the smallest quantities? So what shall we do stop eating tarragon? The truth is that this compound is never really released in our body so even though it is there we do not really have to care for it.

As with anything potentially harmful, discretion is the solution.

Ever tried to pan fry old bread? Dipped into beaten egg perhaps? Sort of French toast but savory, perfect for a tuna salad or any other zingy dip. This is my favorite dinner item when I am visiting my family down in Sicily but the dessert I crave the most are the "crispelle di riso" (rice fritters).

Though not pretty to look at, these dark crispy dumplings of creamy zesty rice pudding are served in local bars swimming in a pool of honey sauce and sometimes dusted with confectioner sugar and cinnamon (I bet dentists love this dessert).
It is something you need to eat with your hands.

Pick up one of the fritters, scoop up some of the honey sauce, close your eyes and be ready for the trip (you better watch for those honey drips onto your shirt too).

Nothing rice is better!

Spring gifts

The origins of this dessert are unclear, the only things sure about it is that the nuns of the Benedictine convent in Catania were enjoying them already in the XVIth century. They are typically prepared for the day of St. Joseph the 19th of March (Father's day) but nowadays you find them also around Christmas. Mostly eaten cold directly out of the aluminum container, these little dumplings can be served warm right after having been rolled into the hot honey sauce.

The main ingredient in this recipe is naturally rice for its texture but most of the flavor comes from the oranges used both in preparing the pudding as in the sauce.
The procedure of making them is rather simple and they will make the perfect addition to any party buffet as well as picnic or simply a self-indulging couch-potato night.

Spring gifts

Now a little bit of etymology. This kind of dumplings in Italian are called "crispelle" (not to be confused with "crespelle" that are actually crepes). All these words have in common the root "crisp"; that doesn't mean that they come from English, obviously, but rather from the Latin "crispus" that referred to something wavy, curly. Probably the term came to represent fried crunchy things by extension to what happened to the first fried flat bread that curled up while becoming crunchy.

So now we have got two words crispy and crunchy that refer to similar qualities but while the first stems from the appearance of the item the second comes from the actual sound it makes when eaten (onomatopoeic word).

Enough with the nerdy part, let's start eating! Following I propose you my interpretation of the "crispelle di riso" that I have chosen to serve with fresh red berries as well as fresh oranges.

Crispelle di Riso di San Giuseppe (St Joseph's zesty Sicilian rice fritters)
Crispelle di riso

Ingredients (make 18 dumplings):

  • 150g short grain rice, as for rice pudding
  • 400g milk
  • 150g cream
  • zest 1 orange, grated
  • zest 1/2 lemon, grated
  • 3.5tbsp sugar
  • 1 L egg
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • Extra milk (optional)
  • flour (optional)
  • Vegetable oil

Honey sauce:
  • 6-8tbsp honey, preferably from orange blossoms
  • juice of 1 orange
  • 1/4tsp cinnamon

  • Confectioner sugar

In a pot bring the milk and the cream to a simmer; add the orange and lemon zest along with the sugar and the rice. Bring back to a simmer stirring every now and then, cover with the lid and turn the flame to low.

Every now and then stir the rice pudding to be sure it doesn't stick to the bottom, this will become particularly important toward the end of the cooking process when the pudding will become thicker. If the pudding will become too dry before the rice is cooked, add extra milk.

When the rice will be cooked and the pudding look quite dry and thick; switch off the heat and let it come to room temperature stirring it every now and then.
In a separate bowl beat the egg with a fork and mix in the cold rice pudding a little at a time, breaking all the clumps.

In a deep enough pot, bring 1inch of vegetable oil up to frying temperature (180C should suffice). When the oil will be almost ready, stir the baking powder into the rice mix. Using two spoons scoop some of the rice batter and shape it into quenelles.

Fry the rice quenelles until they will attain a nice deep brown color. Set them aside over some paper towel to drain while you continue frying.If the quenelles break when cooking the batter might be too dry, mix some all purpose flour into it to thicken the batter.To avoid that the fritters breaking, let them cool down a bit before proceeding with the sauce.

To prepare the sauce gather in a pan the honey, the orange juice and the cinnamon, over medium heat warm them up stirring. When the orange honey sauce will start to boil switch off the heat and roll the rice fritters into it.

Serve them straight ahead still warm or at room temperature, dusted with some extra cinnamon and powder sugar accompanied by some fresh orange slices and red berries.

Crispelle di riso

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