“It’s still Christmas in Frascati,” I thought to myself as I walked home last night. The fairy lights that had been put up back in November by the town’s famous café, the Bar Belvedere (or Bar Brega), were still twinkling away most fetchingly. (And by the by, Bar Brega is famous for its top notch ice cream should you ever venture to these parts).
Opposite the café, looking somewhat forlorn, still gleamed the minimalist garland decoration on a Christmas tree. But hey ho let’s not knock it too much, stripes of light continued to shine from the tree and brighten up a Winter’s evening.
Is it too late to wish everyone a Happy New Year? It’s still January, so I am hoping it is not.
Not that January is most people’s favourite month of the year, not unless one likes skiing or skating. Hunkering down with hot drinks or wine in front of an open fire or in an otherwise warmed-up cheery surrounding (candles anyone?) can of course be very romantic and soul soothing, as can reading a book all tucked up on a sofa, or watching a rerun of a much loved TV series. Winter slows us down and so it should. We are mammals after all and a lot of mammals go into hibernation wherever the colder climes are meteorologically normal for this time of year (we won’t mention climate change). I read somewhere that our metabolism tends to slow down in Winter which is a good excuse for us to put on some more weight and blame it on biology.
All this to say that I do indeed see why a crisp Winter’s day or a cosy evening indoors can be most enjoyable and atavistically rooted even in our biology. It’s just that January, following weeks of festivities starting with Thanksgiving in the USA and ending with New Year’s Eve for most of the rest of the world, starts off with expectations and a bang and then degenerates somewhat into either a lull or downright despondency. Have you ever heard of anyone enthusiastically exclaiming “Yay! I can’t wait for January!” ??? I thought so. Rhetorical question.
In Italy, some holidays based on ancient Roman tradition, on the Church and its cohorts of saints do a good job of keeping people’s pecker up. The last Christmas holy day of 6th January (Twelfth Night as it is known in English) is officially called “l’epifania” (Epiphany) and celebrates the occasion of the Three Kings presenting baby Jesus with precious gifts. Until the 1960s all Italian children received their Christmas gifts on this day, and not on the 24th or 25th December. The presents were brought by a somewhat witchy crone, called “La Befana”, who steals into people’s houses in the thick of the night, riding on a broom and wearing stockings that are in dire need of darning. She delivers nice presents to ‘good’ children and charcoal to those who have been deemed naughty. La Befana is quite spooky and pretty ugly if you’ll excuse the oxymoron. Should someone call you a Befana, please understand that it is definitely not a compliment (Very odd indeed, this Befana figure, a little reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Macbeth witches, all be she much more benign). The Epiphany, Twelfth Night, comes to put an end to festivities. “L’epifania tutte le feste porta via” goes the proverb. And we are supposed to feel … what? Recharged? Raring to get on with the new year? Sigh.
Thank goodness that the celebration of Carnevale (carnival) follows on fairly quickly after January 6th, usually within a few weeks. And with Carnevale comes the season for lots and lots of regionally typical sweets and biscuits and what have you to cheer us up (so many of them are fried in hot oil these days, in lard way back when, some decades ago). The root of the term must surely come from the Latin “adieu to meat” (carnis = meat, and Vale is Latin for farewell) but the requisite fasting for Lent isn’t enforced until Carnevale comes to an end, and that is on Ash Wednesday. This year it’s going to fall on St Valentine’s day, oops! What are people to do? I reckon some poetic licence will have be called upon this year, so as to kick off the Lenten season exceptionally on a Thursday. At any rate, let us enjoy what Carnevale can offer us by way of a fried almost cracker-like sweet called a “frappa” in the singular, and “frappe” in the plural. (That’s what they called here and in Rome. In other parts of Italy they are known as “chiacchiere”, pronounced “kee-yak-kyay-ray”).
I got the recipe from my next door neighbour, Rossella. It’s from Ada Boni’s book, “Il Talismano della Felicità”. I never got around to buying a copy for myself because my mother has promised me hers, which was given to her circa 1952.
30g lard (I didn’thave any so used butter instead)
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1 tablespoon sugar and 1 pinch of salt
White wine (Ada Boni didn’t mention how much was required, so you are going to have to make this up as you go along)
Groundnut/peanut oil for frying
Icing sugar (powdered sugar)
The idea is to make a dough using the flour, eggs, salt and sugar and add enough wine as is needed. I thought 1 glass would do the job but it wasn’t enough, so I added some rum (I had run out of wine would you believe ! horror upon horror, almost unheard of in this family.) I placed all the ingredients in a processor and blended them, adding the wine/rum last. The dough then has to rest, for half an hour or so.
That’s the butter on the left. Flour, wine and eggs on the right (ignore the baked apples in the dish).
And the addition of the butter, the egg yolks and the whole egg, pinch of sugar and spoonful of sugar.
I whizzed away but the dough was too crumbly after adding the glass of wine, so had to add the rum.
Now we were talking! The consistency of the dough was just right (moist but not too sticky) and I shaped it into a ball and covered it with clingfilm (saran wrap/glad wrap …. how many names for this film of see-through plastic !). Let the dough rest for about half an hour.
Then let the rolling begin. Dust the surface with plenty of flour before you start with the rolling pin. The dough has to be stretched/rolled out to the same sort of thickness as when you are making fresh pasta. Fairly thin, less than half an inch say.
A very useful gadget …. a wheel that rolls and cuts. If you haven’t got one never mind, just use a knife.
Wheeeee. Roll and cut, roll and cut, roll and cut.
Fry the frappe in plenty of hot groundnut oil or other vegetable oil of your choice (although I don’t advise you use other vegetable oils, except for olive oil, because the smoke point is much lower and hence not at all healthy for us). The ribbon of delight will puff up and present some ‘bubbles’ as it fries.
See? Drain and set aside on some kitchen paper to absorb any oil there might be (fortunately, there was hardly any).
Since this is the season for snow, add plenty of sugary snow (icing sugar/powdered sugar) to the frappe. Make sure there is a real avalanche of sweetness. Some of the sugar falls off, in any case, when you go to pick up the frappa with your eager hands.
I fried half the amount of dough after having attempted to bake the other half of the frappe in the oven. People swear that frappe baked in the oven are just as good as fried ones. As a fried-food-fanatic (FFF) I can only say that I strongly disagree with them. If you are going to be naughty and eat sugary foods in the first place, you may as well go the whole hog and eat them the way they are supposed to be cooked, and that is fried. Half-baked solace is no solace at all, say I.
Buon anno! Happy New Year!