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Home is where the fritters are

Returning from vacation is never a wholly pleasant proposition, no matter how much I love my city of residence, my cozy apartment—deep-pile carpet notwithstanding—or my trusty little kitchen, always ready and waiting. Whoever said that home is where the heart is clearly did very little traveling, and must have fallen in love with the boy next door. But if ever there were a compelling reason for renewing my vows to Seattle just when my eye was at its wandering worst, it would have to be a certain five-headed family known for its lamb roasts, immoderate whipped cream consumption, and general gastronomic generosity. New York may have nearly everything a girl could want, but it doesn’t have the Knights. And really, who else would respond with such unquestioning enthusiasm when I call to propose deep-frying a pound of ricotta cheese spiked with bourbon and lemon zest?

I’d been eyeing a recipe for frittelle di ricotta, or ricotta fritters, for nearly three months, since Saveur Cooks Authentic Italian landed on my bookshelf. It was a dangerous proposition, however, for a single-occupant household: no one should ever, under any circumstances, be left alone with two dozen ricotta fritters and a box of powdered sugar.

So the recipe waited, as many have been known to do, in a pile on the kitchen counter, until the first twinges of fall sent me pawing after it. The nights are starting their long, slow stretch; the mornings grow cooler and cloudier; and nothing sounds so good as the homey, rustic richness of fresh ricotta, a warming nip of bourbon, and a burbling vat of oil to fry it all in. Call it the “fattening-up” instinct, but in times like these—as well as many others, of course—it’s good to know the Knight family. I’ve never minded drinking alone, but frying is another matter entirely.

So it was that I arrived at their door with a bowl of batter and a quart of canola oil. They met me with a Costco-size bag of powdered sugar and a well-seasoned wok, and on a mid-week work night, with fall unfolding on the other side of the window, we stationed ourselves before the stove, set the oil to bubbling, and we fried.

The fritters were golden and crispy to the tooth, with a lightness that belied their oily baptism. Beneath its delicate, crackling exterior, the ricotta was warm, meltingly soft and cloudlike, some ethereal intermediate between soufflé and softly scrambled egg. Perfumed with bourbon and the lightly bitter edge of lemon zest, its clean dairy flavor became something complex, both edgy and soothing.

Kate gave the fritters a good snowy sprinkling of sugar, while the family patriarch, declaring them “pure ambrosia,” sent up a cry for the whipped cream siphon. Without the Knights, dear reader, the world might never have known a lily so gilded as a cream-topped, powdered-sugar-dusted ricotta fritter.

I may have passed on the cream, myself, but I did manage to get three fat fritters past these lips. And from atop that boozy cloud of fried cheese, home was a very pleasant proposition indeed.

Frittelle di Ricotta, or Ricotta Fritters
Adapted from Saveur Cooks Authentic Italian

This recipe, as written in the cookbook, calls for a whopping four tablespoons (¼ cup!) of baking powder. Not excited about the idea of chalky, chemical-flavored fritters, I guessed that the editors must have meant four teaspoons, which wound up working beautifully here. The original recipe also calls for brandy, but I substituted Woodford Reserve bourbon instead, since I didn’t have any brandy lying around. I’ve listed both here, so use whichever you see fit—but make sure that you like its flavor, because it comes through with a good degree of prominence. In fact, we lovingly—and with only slight exaggeration—dubbed our finished fritters “bourbon balls.” Also, be sure to use a good, fresh ricotta, such as the Calabro hand-dipped type, or try making your own.

3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbs granulated sugar
1 lb ricotta, preferably fresh; if yours is especially wet, drain off any excess moisture before beginning
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
4 Tbs good-quality brandy or bourbon
2 tsp finely chopped lemon zest
A pinch of salt
Vegetable oil, such as canola, for frying
Powdered sugar, for serving

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except the oil and powdered sugar. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate for one hour.

Pour oil into a large saucepan, Dutch oven, or wok to a depth of about 3 inches. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking, about 375 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of ricotta batter into the hot oil, and fry, two or three at a time, until golden, about 4-5 minutes, turning with a slotted spoon or skimmer as necessary.

Drain the fritters on paper towels, dust them with plenty of powdered sugar, and serve.

Yield: about 20-25 2-inch fritters


Blogger buckhuntr said...

This is a very, very dangerous blog to stumble across when one is on a diet!!

3:45 PM, September 25, 2005  
Blogger T said...

I cant imagine anything more lovely than fried ricotta- ive been eyeing a similar recipe myself, and i think that, as soon as the weather jusitifies my own fattening instict (Los Angeles is behind the rest of the country weather-wise), I will make a batch of these!

6:16 PM, September 25, 2005  
Anonymous Julie said...

Oh, Molly -- these look heavenly. How very wise was your impulse to get the Knights to share your moment of debauchery! I want to try these, but if G didn't like them...well, better to have a group around when frying, as you so aptly expressed.

Your post reminds me of how wistful I felt when we returned from our summer jaunts -- and I too had to blog it in order to get through the mixed blessings of coming home. So enjoy Seattle -- but come back soon, so we can play again!

6:22 PM, September 25, 2005  
Blogger Shauna said...

Oh my! Hearing about these today only gave me a taste for the real treat--or at least as real as photographs and words can be. Beautiful close-up of the fritters, Molly. Oh yes, indeed.

And I, for one, am ever so happy that you've come back to Seattle.

7:07 PM, September 25, 2005  
Blogger Gia-Gina said...

I love that you are frying the fritters in a wok, the best kitchen tool ever invented in my humble opinion.

10:17 AM, September 26, 2005  
Blogger foodiechickie said...

I totally relate to your wander lust and thank you for that Ricotta recipe. I've been wanting to find a delicious one and I regard your recipes highly!

11:07 AM, September 26, 2005  
Blogger Jen said...

Oh, yum. This sounds like all the delight of a cannoli without the bother of a shell.

Anyone have other liquor/liqeur suggestions? I'm guessing the bourbon/brandy might be a hard sell in my house. I could be wrong, though -- who would turn these down?

12:19 PM, September 26, 2005  
Blogger Zarah Maria said...

There's nothing like sharing, is there? Though I might want to keep all those fat-bellied lovelies for myself!;-)

12:36 AM, September 27, 2005  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Simply sublime... Whoever it was that introduced deep-fried things to the world deserves a medal. I will definitely give these a try! And to be honest, I don't need cold weather to trigger my fattening-up instinct, it seems to work just fine year round! ;)

3:18 AM, September 27, 2005  
Anonymous Brandon said...

jen, for a non-alcoholic version, It might be nice to substitute a real maple syrup solution diluted with water so that it was a thiner consistency - and then remove or reduce the granulated sugar in the recipe. Good luck.

9:45 AM, September 27, 2005  
Anonymous Luisa said...

I made a batch of these once from a recipe that Nigella Lawson printed in the New York Times - they were a huge hit. Faintly perfumed with nutmeg and covered with powdered sugar.... And surprisingly easy to make, despite the big vat of hot oil! I like the idea of capping them with whipped cream - gilding the lily is always fun.

1:14 PM, September 27, 2005  
Anonymous NoIvory said...

Fantastic writing and choice of "homecoming" food. I'm bookmarking your site. I love it.

2:03 PM, September 27, 2005  
Blogger kickpleat said...

oh.my.goodness. mmmmmm!

8:56 PM, September 27, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Buckhuntr, I'm so sorry! You're not the first to tell me that, so I'm starting to think that Orangette needs its own warning label! Oh, and I see that you live in Tulsa; I'm from Oklahoma City. Hello there, former neighbor.

Tanvi, ricotta really is a magical thing, isn't it? It's so versatile--yummy straight from the spoon, baked into a pasta dish, spooned atop a fruit compote, drizzled with honey, or crisped and creamy-fied with a good frying. It's a perfect way to inaugurate fall, so here's hoping L.A. cools down soon...

Thank you, Julie, and yes, hurry up and find a crowd to fry for! Or hey, halve a batch. I suppose that would be the sensible girl's approach to frying--not that I know anything about that! And as for NYC, yes, I'll be back soon enough...but in the meantime, I'll live vicariously through you, if you don't mind...

Shauna, m'dear, thank you. I know, I did have fritters on the brain the other day, didn't I? So glad that the real thing--in two dimensions, at least--didn't disappoint! Now, maybe you should sample a three-dimensional version. Do you think they'd work with gluten-free flour, or is that a disaster in the making? We could test it out and see...

Gia-Gina, you would get along just fine with the Knights! Their wok is a gorgeous, well-loved thing. I don't have one, myself--this electric stove puts a damper on things!--but I'm happy to be able to steal theirs every now and then.

Foodiechickie, it's my pleasure. Please do let me know if you give the fritters a go...

Jen, Brandon has offered a good non-alcoholic suggestion above, but if you want to stick with some sort of alcohol, I'd suggest simply cutting back the amount you use. Try 2 or 3 Tbs instead of 4, substituting water or milk for whatever you leave out. Or, if you want to try fritters without bourbon, brandy, OR Brandon's maple syrup suggestion, you could replace all the liqueur with milk (or water) and maybe increase the amount of lemon zest a touch. That too would be delicious!

Zarah, I love your wording. "Fat-bellied lovelies"? Lovely, m'dear!

Melissa, I've never thought of myself as a deep-fryin' gal, but I'm tempted to go in with you on this medal idea. Or maybe a simple toast would suffice, as long as we're toasting with fritters...

Brandon, mon chou, thanks for piping up to help Jen. Now, stop thinking about food and get back to work, young man.

Luisa, I'm sorry to have missed that Nigella recipe! The addition of nutmeg must have been lovely. I'll have to try that for my next batch. Speaking of which, I hope the Knights are ready...

NoIvory, thank you! That made my afternoon.

And kickpleat, I believe that's exactly what I said (give or take a little profanity) when I took my first bite!

9:08 PM, September 27, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

Hi Molly, I know you love the Knights, but they must love you just as much in return for all the heavenly foods you bring to their get-togethers. I have never heard of deep fried ricotta before and im so so intrigued. They look absolutely delicious!

12:27 AM, September 28, 2005  
Blogger T said...

Tag, your it! Im tagging you for the meme thats going around- hope you can play along!


PS. Its still impossibly hot here in LA- I think Im going ahead with the fritters anyway!

11:05 AM, September 28, 2005  
Blogger Ruth said...

Much like you, as wonderful as vacations are, I love to come home.

The fritters look awesome.

I've tagged you for the 23rd post 5th sentence meme, because I love reading your posts and would love a peak into your thoughts back at the beginning of your journey.

8:21 AM, September 29, 2005  
Anonymous LisaJoy said...

I just love the way you write...and your fascination with food, not to mention all your recipes. I look forward to a new entry here every week; it’s become an addiction for me!

6:06 PM, September 29, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Michele, really, it doesn't get much better than deep-fried ricotta. And if I may be so bold, I think the Knights' love for me grew exponentially that night.

Tanvi, thanks for thinking of me. I'll get right on that meme! And you'd better do the same with your fritters...

Ruth, since you and Tanvi have both tagged me, I can't help but comply! Off to the archives I go. Thanks for thinking of me...

And thank you, LisaJoy! This is one addiction I'm happy to enable.

10:26 AM, October 02, 2005  
Blogger Ellen said...

They weren't quite "fritters", at least not as I normally think of them, but my ex-MIL used to fry up ricotta (which sounded like riGOtta when she said it) for a treat. I don't remember her adding anything to them but I'll have to ask. I thought she just flattened a bit of cheese in her palm and then fried it.

10:16 PM, October 11, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Ellen, your ex-mother-in-law's recipe sounds like one that desperately needs to be resurrected! If you can manage to get more information, I'd be very curious to hear. The world needs more riGOtta fritters, you know.

12:52 PM, October 13, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting. My name is Katie Fritter!

9:24 PM, September 15, 2006  
Blogger Sigrid said...

Hey! But these ricotta fritters look quite similar to those we have here in Rome for 'martedi grasso' ('fat tuesday?? what is it called in english???). but here they make the dough whithout ricotta and then the fried fritters are opened and filled with it (or with pastry cream)...

1:06 AM, October 17, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Cenzina, those fritters sound so good! I should start looking for a cheap plane ticket to Rome for next Mardi Gras...

5:18 PM, October 17, 2006  
Anonymous Kate Fritter said...

My name is also Kate Fritter!! These recipes look fantastic. Melbourne, Australia.

6:14 PM, November 30, 2006  
Blogger Irbas said...

I know I am quite late in commenting ad this post is from 2005 but.... I have grown up making ricotta balls with my mom... and just as a suggestion... next time try assing some raisins to the batter (small ones though b/c they plump up) and for alcohol we usually use a splash of dark rum and a more generous splash of grand marnier... SO delicious, and the raisin adds that little extra bit of sweetness and chew!

love this blog!!

6:24 AM, April 03, 2008  

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