Monday, December 12, 2016

Nonna's Savory Calabrian Zeppole

The Christmas season is such a busy time of the year, but it is also a time for recreating wonderful traditions and adding on new ones. One tradition my husband and I have reinstated, after moving to Colorado from New York City four years ago, is making a savory, fried potato dough taste treats called Zeppole. They are Calabrian style, and not to be confused with the sweet doughnut type that is also served warm and covered with powdered sugar, which is more Roman or Neapolitan style, and often sold at Italian street festivals. My husband's mother and oldest sister made zeppole the afternoon of every Christmas Eve, and often on other occasions where a crowd of people would gather, such as family birthdays.

Making zeppole was truly a family affair, often with friends, siblings and their spouses, children, and grandchildren all gathered in the kitchen to help. They would take pieces of dough and twist it to drop in the frying pans filled with hot oil, helping to turn them as they fried, and then greedily gobbling them up after they were cooked.  Some zeppole were made with plain dough, but many that followed, and our favorites, were made by twisting the dough around a nice big anchovy.  The combination of the salty anchovy and fried potato dough was quite addictive!  We could eat many of them, while also enjoying a glass, or two, of red wine.

My husband immigrated to the United States as a child, with his parents and siblings from a small hilltop town in Southern Italy near the Ionian Sea, from the Provinces of Reggio Calabria. This is a postcard view of his town. Each region in Italy and even each town has their own variations for making many traditional Italian foods, all of them delicious, but some with quite different ingredients, according to what was available in each town.   The following is the recipe my mother-in-law used, and what my oldest sister-in-law always makes. They would make large quantities of zeppole, as they were always made for festive occasions and served to a lot of people, but my husband and I cut the recipe in half, which was a more reasonable portion for us to enjoy with our family here in Colorado.

Nonna's Savory Calabrian Zeppole


2.5 pounds of potatoes
6 cubes of active wet yeast (found in refrigerated section of the grocery, often near the eggs or dairy)
1.5 tablespoon of salt
2.5 pounds of flour 
1 pound semolina flour
Anchovies preserved in olive oil


Boil potatoes whole, with scrubbed cleaned skins, in water until fork tender. Drain, cool, peel and use a potato ricer or food mill to mash onto a pile on a lighted floured board or clean counter top.  Make a well in the middle of the riced potatoes.

Mix the semolina flour and the white flour in a bowl. Add half the flour mix and the salt to the middle of the potato mixture.

Dissolve the active yeast cakes in one cup of warm water.  Add slowly to the potato and flour mixture a little at a time, while also adding the rest of the flour semolina mixture. Keep hands moist to help with mixing--we keep a bowl of warm water nearby to do this.  

When the potato/flour/semolina dough is all incorporated into a sticky elastic dough, knead on a lightly floured surface until it forms a smooth ball. Place the dough ball in an oiled pot, turn once to cover the dough with oil, cover pan with a towel, and place in a warm place, without drafts, until it is doubled in size.

When the dough is doubled in size, heat oil in a skillet deep enough for the zeppole to float as it cooks. You can use olive oil if desired, but we use a canola oil/olive oil blend as it can heat at a higher temperature without smoking.  Heat the oil until it is almost boiling. You can drop a small piece of dough into the skillet to test if oil is ready--the piece of dough will begin to sizzle and rise to the top of the oil.

With wet hands take a piece of dough and pull and roll into a four-inch rope shape. Add the dry anchovy in the middle (if desired) and twist dough around it.  Gently place in hot oil and fry, turning the dough as needed with forks or tongs, until it is golden in color and crisp.  

Place on paper towels to drain.  

Eat warm and enjoy! 

Uneaten zeppole can be refrigerated and warmed in low oven to reserve.  

This Christmas season we also made time for a new tradition.  We had fun making a gingerbread house with our oldest granddaughter. She thoroughly enjoyed the process and was quite proud of the finished results!  I had to convince her that we would have to wait until Christmas to eat some of the house and that in the meantime it would be a nice decoration. 

Our tree is up--a Noble Fir from a tree farm in Oregon, and we've had some light snowfalls and chilly nights where we could enjoy a cozy fire. This is truly the most wonderful time of the year! Enjoy the season, and please tell me what your favorite tradition is this time of the year.

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Lea said...

Lovely Christmas traditions!
Beautiful granddaughter!
Our favorite Christmas tradition is to go to Memphis, Tennessee, to see the Singing Christmas Tree presentation at Bellevue Baptist Church. It is 2 hours of music, singing, and drama, presenting the Christmas Story from the Bible.
Hope you and your family have a wonderful, beautiful Christmas!

riitta k said...

Traditions are a keepske - can you say like this? :) Zeppole sound delicious! Your home and granddaughter are beautiful - enjoy your week!

eileeninmd said...

Hello, the Zeppole sounds like a delicious tradition. Your granddaughter is cute, I am sure making the gingerbread house was a fun time. Happy Monday, enjoy your day and week ahead!

Maggie said...

Pat, as soon as I saw your first photo I said to myself I don't know what they are but I want some! I've never heard of Zeppole before and probably won't ever make any myself as my husband cannot abide fried food (I know he's mad!)but should you have any to spare you could always send me a care package! Only joking.
Every Christmas Eve I listen to BBC Radio 4's broadcast of the Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College, Cambridge as I putter about the kitchen preparing a special meal for the two of us. That's when Christmas begins for me.

Lorrie said...

Zeppole sound like a delicious treat! I know I'd enjoy them. It's hard to choose a favourite tradition, but baking cookies and treats is one of mine. I do more now than at any other time of year. It's so great to be able to pull out the tins and compile a pretty assortment of goodies to serve guests, family, or just the two of us.
Enjoy your Christmas preparations.

Anonymous said...

I think I'd really enjoy this savory version. Love all the photos of the process. Everything looks ready for Christmas at your house Pat! Beautiful.

Linda W. said...

How yummy! I loved your step by step photo recipe too.

Ann said...

I love your cooking tradition --looks so good. I think I can smell the fragrance from that tree from the photo, it is gorgeous. Decorating the tree with ornaments our children made in elementary school and displaying vintage Christmas photos is one of my favorite traditions. Church Christmas programs are always a highlight for us.

Ann said...

P.S. Just thought of watching "It's a Wonderful Life" with my family!

Kris said...

When we traveled in Europe back in 2008, we found that -- particularly in Italy -- the restaurant proprietors would "throw in" something we hadn't ordered. Once, in a small town in Tuscany, we got a basket of what I called fried bread, hot from the fryer and covered with salt. They were scrumptious. I wonder if this is what we were eating.....

Ola said...

They look so tasty!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing one of your Christmas traditions with ALL SEASONS! And for telling me about it in your fun comment:) Since you've given the recipe, am going to try it. It reminds me on a banana cookie my mother used to make (only those were fried in oil) - the zeppoles may be healthier:):)
Fun to see your grand daughter with her gingerbread house! Have a great family time this month!

The Joy of Home with Martha Ellen said...

I love that you and your husband are making treats that were enjoyed by his family at Christmas. I must admit that I am not an anchovy fan. Yesterday I baked cookies with my two youngest grands. They absolutely adore the whole process and eat quite a bit of the raw dough---Sugar cookie dough is divine. After our eldest grand finishes his exams we will begin our baking extravaganza!
Your tree is beautiful, Pat. I imagine it really does look like Christmas in and out of your home. Enjoy every moment. ♥

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

The gingerbread house is beautiful! And what a gorgeous tree! I know you will enjoy the holidays in's perfect for Christmas! Sweet hugs, Diane

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I make soup dumplings with mashed potatoes in them from a recipe my mother learned from her grandmother. I think I would love these zeppole as they sound much like them with the exception of the deep frying. My grandsons are making gingerbread houses when they come over this weekend :) Pretty tree~

Tamar SB said...

Mm - they sound and look amazing!

NC Sue said...

Those are amazing!
Thanks for sharing the recipe and your holiday traditions at

Annie said...

Your home looks warm and cozy. I love the sweet photo of your granddaughter. What a beautiful girl. Her face is just glowing with happiness.

Michelle said...

This looks like such a wonderful tradition. We always take a drive to look at the Christmas lights/decorations on Christmas Eve. Something I did with my parents when I was growing up.

J said...

I pinned your recipe to try after Christmas. It looks so good. The story reminds me of the "little ears" that I believe you described in your first paragraph. My Lithuanian grandmothers made them frequently - and especially for Christmas.
Your granddaughter is a beauty and did a great job on her gingerbread house!
And what a cozy, very pretty home you have decorated for Christmas!

The Furry Gnome said...

I think I've had something like that. My wife's family is from Calabria!

Jeanne said...

Oh my gosh pat the potato Zeppole looks so delicious. Your directions sound easy enough. One of our traditions was homemade donuts that my grandmother( paternal) made. She visited Florida in the winter and spent time with four of her children that all lived in the same area. We would have her and our grandfather for Christmas. She loved the chaos of our big family. Five girls and one boy. My mother taught us all how to make Christmas cookies and that meant we had lots of fun over the past many years. My sisters still get together to make Christmas cookies. I have shared many of the cookie baking sisters and sometimes dear friends and the cousins join in the fun. A tradition we just can't give up.

Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas. I loved reading the Italian traditions so much.
Big Christmas hugs,

Jeanne said...

Me again, I totally forgot to tell you how adorable your granddaughter is in the wonderful photo of your gingerbread work of art. We too make gingerbread houses for Christmas. Sadly our grands are all grown and there is no one to eat the creation. Sigh!
Hugs, Jeanne

Ciao Chow Linda said...

You made my favorite version Pat - with the anchovies. I grew up eating these, made by my grandmother from Calabria, who taught the recipe to my mother (from Northern Italy). I'm longing for a few right now.

Lady Fi said...

MMmmm... what a delicious tradition!

Rhonda Albom said...

I love the zeppole that are covered in powdered sugar. I'll try your recipe but I'll skip the anchovy.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Perfect family Christmas...sharing old traditions and stories and adding new ones. Your tree is beautiful...Noble firs make wonderful Christmas trees, since the ornaments show so well.

Lowcarb team member said...

Such a lovely post to look at and read.

Your grand-daughter looks adorable, I'm sure she had so much fun making the gingerbread house.
Your tree looks great too.

Isn't this a wonderful time of year.
Hope you enjoy every moment.

All the best Jan

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

That Zeppole looks delicious, fascinating info on how the foods vary from according to what is available.

Beautiful Christmas tree in such a cozy room.

Carole @ From My Carolina Home said...

Boy those do look yummy! Found you on Mrs Olsen's linky.

LV said...

Thank you for sharing this great family tradition. Never had those, but sound very tasty. I loved the entire post, but the granddaughter is definitely an eye catcher.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

Looks so delicious...and I LOVE that tree!!

I hope you have a most wonderful Christmas :)

Sally Wessely said...

Where do you get your energy? I love reading about and seeing all of the amazing preparations you are making for Christmas. Have a Merry Christmas!

Daniela said...

Dearest Pat
it's such a joy to prepare recipes we've inherited from our family and belonging to our traditions, isn't it ?
This week I also have shared a post about the Pampapato from Ferrara, where I have some roots of mine:it's a ritual for me to prepare it and for us all to enjoy at the end of our Christmas meal.

Wishing you all my best for your Holiday Season,
may it be Peaceful and Joy-filled as never before to you and yours,
with much love and gratitude

Xx Dany said...

These look absolutely amazing and so yummy! I'd love to give them a try and I bet they'd be a hit in my family! Thank you so much for sharing at Sweet Inspiration!! Happy New Year!