Frittelle di Mele alla Valdostana
Valle d’Aosta, Italy’s smallest region, is tucked up in the northwest corner of the peninsula. The cozy city of Aosta itself is ringed by mountains and has a hearty cuisine to match its alpine climate. Cabbage, chestnuts, winter squash, and polenta all figure prominently, as do apples.
A couple of years ago my family and I spent Christmas here. As we strolled the little holiday market, set up in the ruins of a Roman theater, we kept warm with spiced vin chaud, bowls of buttery polenta, and—best of all—batter-fried apple rings. The hot rings, showered with powdered sugar, had a distinctive sweet-tart flavor that I learned was due to wine in the batter. When we returned home, I immediately set about trying to recreate those delicious fried sweets.
Yes, the holidays are over and for many of us January is the month of diets and resolutions, but in Italy it is also a period in which fried treats are enjoyed guilt-free, as Carnevale draws near. So fry away!
Cook’s note: Use firm, tart apples such as Granny Smith. They will keep their shape during frying, and the tartness contrasts nicely with the sugar topping. You can use either confectioners’ (icing) sugar or granulated sugar to dip your fried apples; my personal preference is the latter, as it gives the apples an appealing crunchy coating.
Note that wooden chopsticks are helpful when dunking the apple rings in batter and in sliding them into the hot oil.
Makes 20 to 25 frittelle
Measure the flour into a bowl. Whisk in the wine, water, and egg yolk (reserve the white). Whisk in a pinch of salt. Cover and let rest about 1 hour.
In the mean time, peel and core the apples; cut them into 3/8-inch-thick rings. You should get about 5 rings per apple. Spread the apples out on a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle them lightly with granulates sugar and then brandy. Let them macerate for 1 hour.
Heat the oven to 300° F.
When the batter is ready, whip the egg white: place it in a stainless steel bowl and add a pinch of salt. Whip until it holds stiff peaks. Gently fold the egg white into the batter.
Pour 2 inches worth of oil into a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan large enough to hold 2 or 3 apple rings. Heat on medium-high to 375° F or until a drop of batter sizzles and puffs up upon contact with the oil.
Pat the apple slices dry. Dip a slice into the batter and coat it well. Use a wooden chopstick or skewer to lift it through the core hole and transfer it to the hot oil, allowing some of the batter to drop off before carefully lowering it into the oil. (I find a second cho stick handy in helping to guide the apple slice into the hot oil without making a splash.) Fry the apple slices two or three at a time, turning them once or twice, until golden on both sides. With a slotted spoon or wire spider, transfer the slices to a paper towel-lined platter or tray. Place the tray in the preheated oven and continue to fry the apple slices.
At serving time, shower the fried apples with confectioners’ sugar. Or, pour about a cup of granulated sugar into a shallow bowl. Gently dip the apple slices in the sugar, coating them thoroughly. Serve the apple slices hot, warm, or at room temperature.