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By Katerina Ayer

Chiacchiere, chatter – chit chat – gossip. In this case though, the chiacchiere I’m talking about are the sweet crunchy pastries covered in powdered sugar. As with every holiday in Italy, the food is as important as the event itself, and Carnevale is no different. Fried sweets are part of the Carnevale tradition all over Italy.

These fried treats go by many names and many shapes throughout the bel paese. In the Campania region and southern part of Italy, their name is chiacchiere (kee-ah-keh-ray). When you eat them, their crunchiness makes so much noise it sounds like chatter. Notice I say when you eat them, because I dare you to eat only one and walk away. It’s impossible.

The saying, “A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale,” is also part of the Carnevale tradition. “At Carnival every joke/prank is allowed.” The pranks can vary in degree, from the harmless – being doused with confetti, to the more

problematic – being hit by water balloons or raw eggs. The closer you get to Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday), the more serious the prank is likely to be. I would suggest not wearing your best clothes, and possibly having a few of these fried treats around to bribe any would-be offenders away. I, however, believe the worst “scherzo” you can play on a person would be to leave them with only one of these chiacchiere to eat.

Chiacchiere Recipe
(makes about 3 dozen)

3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons (80 grams) granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons (4 grams) baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
5 tablespoons (75 grams) butter, at room temperature and cubed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons (35-50 ml) liquor (dry white wine, sweet Marsala, grappa)
About 6 cups (1 1/2 liters) of vegetable oil for frying
Powdered Sugar for dusting (1 to 1 1/2 cups)

Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. On a wooden board, make a well with the dry ingredients. Break the eggs into the center of the well, and gently whisk them with a fork to break the yolks. Add the vanilla extract, 2 tablespoons of the liquor and the butter. It is very important that the butter is very soft (I left it out overnight). With the fork, stir the flour mixture from the sides into the center of the well until all the flour mixture has been joined with the wet ingredients. With your hands, gently knead the dough together until all the ingredients are combined. You don’t want to work the dough (or you will make it tough), but you want to knead it only enough so that all ingredients form a homogenous ball. If the dough doesn’t come together, add one more tablespoon of the liquor. After you’ve kneaded the dough, it should be just a little sticky to the touch. Cover with plastic wrap, and rest on the counter for 30 minutes (do not refrigerate).

Once the dough has rested, divide it into two pieces. On a lightly floured wooden surface, roll out one of the pieces of dough to 1/8-inch thick (2-3 mm). With a fluted pastry wheel, cut the dough into 2×4-inch rectangles. At this point, the dough is ready to be fried.

If you’d like to make the chiacchiere a little more decorative, you can make a little cut into the center of each rectangle, and fry like that. For a more twisted looking chiacchiere, you can twist one end through the cut slit, and then fry the dough. For these twisted ones, I would cut the rectangles to a size of 2×5-inches to leave two flat “flaps” at each end.

Heat the oil in a deep pan until it reaches 375ºF (180ºC). If you don’t have a thermometer, you will know the oil is ready when you place some dough (use some of the scraps from the edges) into the oil and it immediately bubbles.

Gently place (do not drop or the oil will spit out and may burn you) about 4 to 5 pieces of dough into the oil at a time (You don’t want to overcrowd the pan, or you will lower the temperature of the oil) and fry them until they are golden brown, three to four minutes. With a slotted spoon, turn the chiacchiere while they are frying, so both sides are golden in color. Place on a plate with a paper towel to drain the excess oil and cool. Dust with powdered sugar. Buon Appetito and Buon Carnevale!

She fell in love with Naples on her first visit and keeps coming back.  She can’t pinpoint one thing; it’s a combination of all things Napolitani.  The people – embracing life and visitors with a passion as fervent as the traffic in the streets.  The atmosphere – the beauty of the bay of Naples, an ancient city both decaying and enduring and full of history, and a chaos and frenzy the for her reflects the zest for life of the people. And, the food – one of the best in all of Italy – something for every taste; seafood, slow-cooked, succulent, sweet, simple, fussed-over, fried, and of course, pizza.

See all of Kathy Ayer’s Recipes on Napoli Unplugged.

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