Scrumptious AND a bit healthy, too? Yes. Many asked for this unique and little-known Neapolitan starter so I am very excited to share the recipe of zeppoline di cavolfiore.
“Zeppoline what?” I hear you cry. We could just call them cauliflower fritters but this might put off those among you who cannot stand this wonderful vegetable.
You’ll need to make a leap of faith and make these zeppoline di cavolfiore – or come chez nous and try them!
But before that day comes, I can only try to use my advanced and sophisticated knowledge of the English language to describe the world of deliciousness held in a mouthful of a zeppolina di cavolfiore. One bite and you will have an irresistible urge for more and more.
It is the luxurious crispy wrap of risen batter (water, flour, pepper, parmesan and yeast) and unique taste of small cauliflower heads softened in boiling water that will open the door to a new world of flavours and textures.
There must be something magical happening in the pan when you deep-fry a dollop of this wonderful mixture of risen dough (pasta cresciuta) and cauliflower.
They make such a good pair that it makes you wonder how such deliciousness came out of such simple and inexpensive ingredients.
Right. Enough of this attempt to describe food in a Masterchef style. That was fun while it lasted…
Zeppoline di cavolfiore taste to me of Christmas as they are traditionally made on Christmas Eve as one of many starters for dinner.
During the evening, when my granny, mummy and aunt would gather in the kitchen to prepare the big meal (in Naples it happens on Christmas Eve as opposed to Christmas Day) the kitchen hobs would be crowded with large frying pans. And meanwhile a flow of still hot zeppoline would be laid out on large trays ready to be served shortly for dinner to the delight of little ones and grown-ups alike.
But something strange regularly happened: however often my granny turned her head she would never see the amount of zeppoline increase.
They smelt too good and tasted too heavenly to survive until supper. One at a time we grandchildren would quietly walk past the tray and grab a zeppolina… “Hands off the trays,” she would scream, but deep inside my granny knew that these zeppoline were at their best when mangiate al volo (eaten on the go) fresh out of the pan, so she always let us get away with it.:-) Aren’t grandparents just amazing? How I miss mine… Anyway.
These zeppoline are so scrumptious that recently I decided to make them for a few friends who came over for lunch.
A mix of Brits and Italians, none of whom had ever heard of them, and let me tell you: there were none left. It was a new flavour for everyone and our friends were blown away.
Whether you like cauliflower or not, you will love these. And it is always great to try and discover new flavours. I am very excited to introduce more people to the still hidden deliciousness of many Neapolitan dishes and this is definitely one of those you don’t want to miss.
If you recently started dating someone and you want to impress and delight them by cooking for them, make zeppoline di cavolfiore. Unless they are Neapolitan or have previously dated someone from Naples/are close friends with someone, it will be something new they will adore and they will be grateful to you forever.
And guess what? If your date is vegetarian or even vegan and you are after something different (just do not use parmesan in the batter), this is a perfect way to spoil them…
Ingredients for zeppoline di cavolfiore
- 5g active dried yeast
- 1 teaspoon of caster sugar
- 40ml warm/lukewarm water
- 250g flour 00
- 275g lukewarm water
- 1 teaspoon of fine salt
- 250g cauliflower (weight when cleaned and with stalks removed)
- 25g grated parmesan
- About 500ml peanut oil to fry
- Extra salt for sprinkling
In a glass add the yeast, 40ml warm water and the sugar. Stir very well with a fork until the granules are all dissolved. Let rest for 15 minutes until it gets all bubbly. It means the yeast is now activated.
In a larger bowl add the flour, make a well, add the yeast in the middle and mix well with a fork, incorporating a bit of flour.
Pour the lukewarm water into a jug and add the salt. Mix well. Pour half the quantity of water in the bowl and mix energetically with a fork. You need to make sure that there are no lumps.
Add more water and keep incorporating the flour with the water. Mix well until all water has been added and you have a smooth, runny mixture.
Cover with cling film and wrap in a tea towel to rest for 1 hour, after which it will have doubled in size and will look all bubbly. At this point stir the mixture with a wooden spoon before letting it rest for another hour.
Meanwhile, clean and chop the cauliflower and cook it in salted water until very tender. Transfer to a large plate and crush the pieces a little.
Drain and set aside.
When the batter is ready, add the pieces of cauliflower and incorporate well into the batter. Season with pepper and some grated parmesan. Mix well.
Put some kitchen paper on a plate in readiness for the cooked zeppoline. Heat the oil in a small deep saucepan. The temperature of the oil should not be too hot because this will brown the zeppoline outside but they will not cook properly inside (a definite NO-NO). The oil needs to be hot (but no more than 180°C) and zeppoline need to be cooked slowly.
Take a tablespoon of mixture. With another spoon push the content into the oil and fry at medium heat until risen and gold. Once the mixture is in the pan, wait for 6 seconds for it to settle, then keep turning the zeppolina so it can cook evenly. You can cook two at a time, but no more. When they are ready, transfer them to the plate covered with kitchen paper.
Zeppoline di cavolfiore are at their best when served hot and sprinkled with salt. Warning: they are unlikely to get as far as the table as they are so yummy people will be drawn to the kitchen and won’t be able to resist the temptation!
Can these be made in advance and frozen?