Zeppole are so easy to make—after all, they are basically just fried pizza dough balls—it is almost embarrassing to post about it, but since it was one of my favorite snack foods that Angelina made, it deserves pride of place on this blog. And, in any event, who doesn’t like fried dough?
Most people think of zeppole as a dessert, but in fact, they can be sweet or savory. And Angelina would usually make the savory variety that I love.
- One batch of pizza dough, preferably homemade
- One can of anchovies in olive oil
Simply make a regular batch of pizza dough (see my post on Angelina’s pizza casereccia for the recipe) or buy some pizza dough at your local Italian deli.
Grabbing a walnut-sized ball of dough, make a well in the middle of the ball with your finger and place a single anchovy fillet inside. Then bring the sides around the fillet to cover the well and form a nice ball. You may need to roll the dough around in your hands a bit to make sure the opening is well sealed. Continue in the same fashion with the rest of the dough.
Now fry them gently in olive oil, or a mix of olive and canola oil, until they are nice and golden brown on all sides. It will take no longer than five minutes or so. Regulate the temperature so they do not brown too quickly, before the insides have a chance to cook. They will swell up as they fry, which is exactly what you want. Drain them on paper towels or on a rack.
Zeppole are really best eaten right away, but you can keep them warm in a slow oven, on a baking rack placed over a cookie sheet, or even reheat them later. They will lose a bit of their crispiness but none of their goodness.
Notes on Zeppole
There seems to be some confusion, let’s call it, about the name for these little guys. That’s not surprising, since it is common in Italian cooking, which is still highly regional, for the same dish (or with slight variations) to change name from region to place to place. According to Neapolitan gastronome Jeanne Caròla Francesconi, the ‘official’ name for what Angelina—and many others—call zeppole is pasta cresciuta, with the name zeppole reserved for the sweet variety. (Her recipe for pasta cresciuta, however, has a softer, wetter dough than this one.) Readers have told me that they would call this dish pettole, which is apparently the name given to them in Puglia and Basilicata. Other there are still other names, depending on where you go: sfingi, fritelle… Well, this being Angelina’s blog, I’ll keep calling them zeppole.
The more common sweet version of zeppole are usually filled with crema pasticcera or sweetened ricotta mixed with some chocolate bits, or just the dough. Sweet zeppole dusted with confectioners’ sugar before serving. Of course, all kinds of other fillings, both sweet and savory, make for many variations. Without a filling, they can be shaped into rings rather than balls. Some variations are made from choux pastry and baked. But these savory, anchovy-filled fried zeppole are the ones I remember from my childhood and will always be my favorite.
Zeppole are traditionally eaten in Naples on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19. In Rome a very similar fried pastry is, in fact, called bignè di san Giuseppe and eaten the same day. But apparently in other parts of Italy, such as Calabria, zeppole are traditional around New Years, which makes them timely around now. But, honestly, these are so good you won’t want to limit your zeppole making to one time of year.
A wonderful snack food, zeppole can also be used as a kind of antipasto, either alone or as part of medley of different offerings. Just remember to make enough: like potato chips, no one can eat just one!
A reader (my mother!) informs me that, yes, Angelina also made the sweet variety of zeppole, too. Funny I don’t remember that too well. But then, I was an unusual child in that I didn’t have a sweet tooth. I would eat sweets, of course, if there were given to me, but I didn’t seek them out. Nor, apparently, did I find them all that memorable.
- One batch of pizza dough, preferably homemade
- One can of anchovies in olive oil
- Simply make a regular batch of pizza dough (see my post on Angelina's pizza casereccia for the recipe) or buy some pizza dough at your local Italian deli.
- Grabbing a walnut-sized ball of dough, make a well in the middle of the ball with your finger and place a single anchovy fillet inside. Then bring the sides around the fillet to cover the well and form a nice ball. You may need to roll the dough around in your hands a bit to make sure the opening is well sealed. Continue in the same fashion with the rest of the dough.
- Now fry them gently in olive oil, or a mix of olive and canola oil, until they are nice and golden brown on all sides. It will take no longer than five minutes or so. Regulate the temperature so they do not brown too quickly, before the insides have a chance to cook. They will swell up as they fry, which is exactly what you want. Drain them on paper towels or on a rack.
- Zeppole are really best eaten right away, but you can keep them warm in a slow oven, on a baking rack placed over a cookie sheet, or even reheat them later. They will lose a bit of their crispiness but none of their goodness.
Frank , My Grandparents on both sides were from Province Di Bari ; Grummo and Torrito . I remember frittola served with Anchovies and also, with a “spoiled Ricotta” or in dialect , Ricotta squanda?(sp.). My grandmother kept a mason jar of ricotta that had been aged with mold’ ala any good cheese and it was spread with love on these savory hot zeppole and treasured , for their flavor and for the nostalgia , to the “old folks .”
The cheese was redolent of flavor and olfactory identification, much like a strong Limburger or aged Gorgonzola .The hot zeppole brought out all the best ! I am the oldest son of the youngest son ,of first generation immigrants ; God blessed me with the timing and with the opportunity to experience, to have lived next door to my Grandparents and aunts and uncles, who instilled in me, these wonderful traditions !
Thank you , for keeping them alive and sharing !
And thank you, Matt, for sharing your memories. They sounds delicious!
Hey, Joe! Thanks for the comment. Angelina was from a town called Apice, not very far at all from Avellino (but closer to Benevento). So glad to hear you're still enjoying those culinary traditions!
Hi- My Grandmother was from the Campania region of Italy(Avellino) On Christmas eve day we always had Zeppole that was made with baccala which was previously soaked. She would also do the ones with the anchovie the same day. What a treat! She is long gone but the tradition continues due to her leaving the recipe. Best regards, Joe
Love your blog! My mother in law used to make efritt, sweet fried dough balls. This gives me a great idea for my blog. Thanks, Ciao
Sounds like great football food! ~Leslie
Thanks folks! Nice to know that even these frightening simple posts are also appreciated! Wishing you all a Happy New Year… 🙂
We'll be covering the sweet kind in March for san Giuseppe!
I've never had the savory version of zeppole. My nonna made the sweet version, with leftover bread dough, and we called them “sfingi.” (from Sicily) I'll have to try these. Thanks!
I must admit, zeppole is my weakness. Made some with some girlfriends a few months ago, we didn't even allow them to fully cool to ever take a picture and post! They are so addicting 🙂
Yours look perfect!
Oh these look like delightful little treats/guilty pleasures now in the beginning of the year when everyone is into resolutions of eating “healthier.” How can one not love fried pizza dough? Does it get any better?
I think I would make a fuss over these… both versions – I know every culture has a varying treat with fried dough… thanks for sharing this one
I love zeppole, I make them at least once a year. You're right about making such a fuss over such a simple thing, seems too simple to blog about it. But then it's the simple things most people have trouble making. Besides they're only simple once you know how to make them. There are many people who've never made them before and wouldn't know where to start unless someone posted the recipe. So your post is very much appreciated. Now I feel It's time to make them again, perhaps tomorrow, when the sun rises… if I can last that long, I hate to go to sleep unsatisfied.
Reading this I though father's day (st Joes) was aroudn the corner. They are everywhere then (and sometimes people cheat and have them for Carinivale too)
My grandmother used to make them with an anchovy inside and they were always my favorite way to eat zeppole. She typically made them for Good Friday, right before Easter – also with tuna fish inside.
I wouldn't be embarrassed about posting the recipe for these — anchovies in a deep fried pizza dough ball — are you kidding? You are my husband's new best friend (he just doesn't know it yet.)
He's gonna love these….Theresa
I have always enjoyed the sweet version of zeppoli, but the savory sounds delicious! A must-try!
The sweet version is usually traditional for Carnival and, of course, they are slighty different (they can be with crema pasticcera, apple, raisins, plain, etc) and have different name, depending in which region you are: frittelle, fritole, scorpelle, castagnole, tortelli …
But first, a bit of detox after Xmas, New Year's Eve and Befana :)))
I've never had them savory. Will put this on my “happy must do” list. My memories of zeppole are munching on hot, oil-dripping, sweetened zeppoles at the Feast of Saint Gennaro as a child. And it's a grand memory. In my older years, savory would be better! And no, I cannot eat just one.
Ok, I confess, I started reading and my first thought was, “fried pizza dough???” Then, I got to the anchovy part and was totally won over!
Oh my. I immediately started thinking of all the things that could be put inside these. Thank you so much for sharing another wonderful heirloom recipe.
I love zeppole dipped in vanilla sugar! These look great!
We had them in Venice last year when we went for Canivale. They were yummy filled with zabaione. Never thought of making them savory, will have to try.
OMG these sound amazing! I've only heard of the sweet variety (giada de laurentis), but I love the anchovy! Great recipe, fantastic photos!
Oh, yum…I could gobble up both the sweet and savory versions…thanks for sharing 🙂
You always post my fave little treats! Thank you! These are awesome … sprinkle some sugar on top and you're good to go!
I had never heard of zeppole, but it does sound wonderful! I'd go for the savory version, but then I love anchovies!
I'm a sucker for anchovies. I get giddy just opening up the tin. These savory zeppoles look fantastic… and beside, it's fried bread
Thanks for sharing your family recipe!