LAne of the most satisfying sights in the kitchen is watching a circle of yeasted dough in very hot oil. First it shimmies, in the same way you might make your way across the function room to the dance floor at a wedding – not quite dancing and all in the shoulders – in a coat of bubbles. Then comes the blistering – small bubbles erupting on its surface, before the big puff – although this usually happens on just one side, which might save you the trouble of turning it over as the pizzetta capsizes, all the time getting more and more golden. I am convinced this is even more exciting if you yourself are impossibly hot. Y, por supuesto, there is the smell! Frying dough – like grating lemons, opening a new bottle of olive oil, packet of coffee or cheese snacks, chopping herbs, or grinding spices, – is one of the great smells.
It is a rather exhausted quote now, the one from Laurie Colwin about how one is never cooking alone, rather doing so with those who taught you, be that a person, book or TV cookery show. Exhausted because it is true, whether it is your beloved grandmother, Nigel o Nigella, or a bouncing young chef on TikTok. I have four people with me when I make these. The first is Daniela Del Balzo, a Neapolitan cookery teacher in Rome, whose stories about eating these as a child are everything you would hope for and expect from a story about eating fried pizza cooked by a grandmother in Naples in the 1950s. The second is Rita Pane, whose book I Sapori Del Sud (or Tastes of Southern Italy) seems to be the one I refer to most these days. The third is a Polish friend who taught me to add a boiled mashed potato to doughnuts and dough, which sounds as if it might make them heavy, but is, De hecho, the complete opposite, rendering them plump and cushiony. The fourth is Sophia Loren, playing the pizza seller, Sophia, in L’Oro Di Napoli, the film suggestion for this week’s column.
Pizzette fritte (little fried pizzas), also known as pizzelle fritte, are not to be confused with pizze fritte, cual are filled (often with ricotta, provola and dried curls of pork called ciccioli), folded in half, sealed and fried. Pizzette fritte, on the other hand, are small rounds of dough fried unfolded and without filling or topping. Once golden and puffed up, they are lifted out of the oil, blotted dry and topped with a spoonful of tomato sauce, maybe some grated pecorino or parmesan, and certainly a basil leaf.
When they are topped with tomato sauce, a dusting of cheese and basil, pizzette are called montanare. And the most important thing is to eat them immediately, or as soon as you can, with a cold beer, and ideally standing around the cooker.
For the pizzette
10g dried yeast
140ml lukewarm milk
140ml lukewarm water
500g de harina común (type 00, idealmente)
1 potato (about 150g), boiled, peeled and mashed
Sunflower oil, for frying
For the sauce
Aceite de oliva
1 garlic clove, peeled
Grated parmesan or pecorino
To make the dough, mix the yeast with the milk, water and a spoonful of flour, then leave to sit for 10 minutos. Mix in the rest of the flour, the potato and a good pinch of salt, then bring together into a ball.
Wash the bowl, dry and rub with oil, then return the dough to the bowl, cover and leave to rest in a draught-free place for an hour.
mientras tanto, get on with the sauce. Peel the tomatoes by plunging them into boiling water for a minute, then into cold, at which point the skins will slip away easily. Roughly chop the flesh.
In a large frying pan, warm a good amount of olive oil and the garlic clove (peeled and squashed for a gentle flavour, sliced for stronger, minced for strongest) and leave to sizzle gently. Add the tomatoes, a pinch of salt and oregano, and leave to simmer gently, until rich and dense.
Pull plum-sized pieces of dough from the ball and flatten them into palm-sized circles. Lay these on a lightly floured surface while you heat a litre of sunflower oil to 180C (or until a cube of bread turns golden in one minute).
Fry the pizzette in small batches, for only a minute or so on each side, until they puff up and turn golden. Lift out with a slotted spoon and blot quickly on kitchen towel. Top each pizzette with a blob of tomato sauce, some grated parmesan or pecorino and a basil leaf, and eat immediately.