Thank you to all who participated in the Mamma Agata cookbook giveaway. Out of all the great comments about your favorite Italian dishes, I randomly chose #29, Janie's comment (her favorite dish is homemade ricotta ravioli with a simple tomato sauce to remind her of lunch with her grandparents). Janie will be receiving an autographed copy of Mamma Agata's Simple and Genuine Cookbook. And today, for everyone that would like a glimpse at the recipes in the cookbook, I'm sharing one of them, Mamma Agata's Coccoli.
These herb fritters were just one of the amazing antipasti that I tasted during my day cooking on the Amalfi Coast, a simple yet oh-so delicious fried treat. Versions of fritters are a classic starter to Italian meals, especially pizza, and as usual, their names change depending on the region. I've heard them called in pastella in Rome, pasta crescuita in Naples, and pittule in Puglia. Who doesn't love fried batter, golden, crunchy and salty outside with the softest pillow-like savory dough inside?
Mamma Agata takes them to another level adding fresh herbs, parmigiano and pancetta to the batter. The herbs give them a pop of freshness, the parmigiano adds extra cheesiness and the pancetta is a subtle addition of the sweet pork fat flavor. They are perfect little starters to any special meal, even your holiday Christmas dinner, for example. The batter (pastella) can also be used as a dipping batter. Dip a mix of seasonal vegetables or shrimp in the batter; fry them and you will look like a god or goddess in the kitchen with this assortment of antipasti.
The recipe and exactly how to make the batter and fry it is beautifully illustrated in Mamma Agata's cookbook. In the book you'll find all her secrets to making the coccoli flavorful and how she gets the pillow-like pefection inside while keeping things crunchy outside. She has also dedicated a full page in her book to share her frying secrets. Below is the recipe and then highlights from her frying instructions.
If you'd like to order the book, you can order it directly from Mamma Agata's website. Chiara and Mamma Agata share some fabulous family recipes and classics of Neapolitan cuisine. With those recipes, along with the stories and photos in the book, they will transport you to the family's Ravello terrace and views of the Amalfi coastline. It would make a beautiful gift for yourself or that special Italian food lover in your life.
Coccoli di Mamma Agata (Herb Fritters)
(from Mamma Agata’s Simple & Genuine Cookbook, recipe published here with her permission)
Mamma Agata’s Pastella:
2 cups (250 g) “00” flour, or white pastry flour
1 teaspoon (25 g) sugar
3/4 cup (100g) Parmigiano cheese, grated
1 cup (200 ml) lukewarm water
1 3/4 tablespoons (25 g) yeast (dry or fresh cake yeast)
2 pinches sea salt
2 teaspoon vinegar
For the Coccoli:
1/2 cup (100g) Parmigiano Regiano cheese, grated
1/2 onion, grated
1 3/4 oz (50 g) pancetta or salami, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
1 teaspoon finely chopped sage
1 quart (1 liter) peanut or grape seed oil for frying (or another oil with a high smoke point)
To make the pastella: In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar and cheese. Add the egg to the bowl and mix together thoroughly. In a separate bowl, dissolve the yeast into the water. Once the yeast is dissolved into the water, slowly add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture. Combine together with your hands until the mixture is the consistency of a thin pancake batter. (NOTE: If the batter is too thick, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water; if the batter is too thin, add a little more flour to thicken it.) There will be lumps in the batter, do not try to whisk them out; or you will overwork the dough and get tough fritters. Cover the bowl and set it aside in a warm, draft-free location for one hour.
After one hour, the batter will have risen. Add the vinegar and salt to the batter and stir. (The batter will deflate when stirred; this is normal.)
To make the Coccoli: In a bowl, mix togehter the cheese, onion, pancetta, and herbs. Add this mixture to the pastella batter and mix together just until the ingredients are combined. (Do not overwork the dough.)
Follow Mamma Agata’s frying instructions: In a frying pan, heat the oil to 375°F (190°C). Using a tablespoon, gather a tablespoon of batter and place it in the oil, letting the batter slide off of the spoon into the oil. Continue this process until you have around 10 coccoli in the pan (Do not overcrowd the pan or it will reduce the ideal temperature of the oil and the coccoli will absorb too much of the oil and be greasy.) Fry the coccoli on each side for 1-2 minutes, until both sides are golden brown. Remove them from the oil and place on paper towels. These are best served hot. Continue frying the remaining batter in batches in the same manner until you fried all the batter. These are best served hot. Buon appettito!
Mamma Agata's secrets and tips for making Coccoli and for frying:
For the pastella batter and coccoli:
The batter will be lumpy - Don't try to dissolve the lumps or you will overwork the dough and get tough fritters.
The water for the yeast must be lukewarm to the touch. If it's too cold or too hot, it will kill the yeast. The batter will not rise and you will not have pillow-like fritters.
Whenever you make batter or dough with yeast, you must add sugar to activate the yeast.
Mamma Agata uses type "00" flour for all of her recipes. She suggests substituting it with white pastry flour if you can't find "00" flour.
Adding vinegar to the batter helps to inhibit the oil from penetrating during the frying process and preventing the coccoli from being greasy.
Mamma Agata's frying tips:
The best frying pans are ugly! She uses a pan that's about 3 to 4 inches deep and 10 inches across. And, she uses this pan and only this pan for frying, letting it get seasoned with each fry, and also uglier with each fry. Her ugly pan lasts at least 3 to 4 years.
Mamma Agata is generous with the quantity of oil and recommends at least 1 liter or quart for her type of pan. She keeps a space of about 1 inch from the oil leve and the top of the pan and never overcrowds the pan when frying. This can cause the oil temperature to drop and the fritters to take too long to cook and to absorb too much oil.
The temperature of the oil is very important. It should be 375 F or 190 C.
Quality of the oil is also important. Seed oils are best for frying because they have a high smoke point and have a neutral flavor that will not change the flavor of what you are frying. Mamma Agata uses peanut oil. She never uses olive oil for frying.
She always uses "clean" oil and never reuses oil from a previous day's or meal's frying.
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