Two days after St. Patrick’s Day comes the Feast of San Giuseppe (St. Joseph). They were probably both Catholic holidays that were superimposed over older pagan festivals marking the vernal equinox. In any case, we celebrate them both with traditional food—corned beef on St. Pat’s, and sfingi on San Giuseppe. And in both cases, we always say, “We should make this more often!”
Sfingi are easy and fun to make. There’s also a version called zeppole, which you’ll often find at Italian street fairs. The difference is that sfingi are made with ricotta, while zeppole are not.
I’m not sure where I got this recipe—it’s on a worn piece of paper written in my own hand, which means I got it from my mom or dad. My notes say to let the batter sit for a half hour or so before frying. I’ve no idea why.
Nota bene: It’s very important not to make them too big and not to let the oil get too hot—otherwise, the outside will cook while the inside will not (and raw batter is not very appetizing). Also, you’ll notice that they flip over by themselves in the oil—as the lower half cooks, it expands and off-gasses, and therefore gets lighter until the heavier top rolls under. Don’t assume they’re cooked at that point—let them go until they reach a nice caramel color, turning them with a spoon to keep them even all over. Serve them while they’re still warm.
What you need
15 oz ricotta (whole milk—not skim)
1 cup flour
4 tsp baking powder
dash of salt
1 tbsp rum/brandy/sherry
corn or vegetable oil for frying
How you make it
- Lightly beat the eggs, then add the ricotta and sugar and continue mixing.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir in the rum or brandy.
- Let stand for about a half hour.
- Heat enough oil in a small pot for the puffs to float—an inch deep at least.
- Using a tablespoon or melon baller, scoop up the batter and drop it into the oil, without crowding the pot. Cook until brown on all sides, then drain on a paper towel or newspaper.
- Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm.