What to do with half a bunch of rhubarb and a punnet of strawberries languishing in my refrigerator? A super quick and simple compote. To be spooned over yoghurt or oats for breakfast. At least that was the plan until I chanced across Thyme and Honey’s drool-worthy Blueberry Yoghurt Donuts in my reader. That post transported me back to my childhood and fond, gluttonous memories of piping hot and light as air mini fried Italian doughnuts. Known as fritelle or zeppole in our house they were eaten as quickly as they could be lifted from the oil, drained and rolled in sugar. I’m sure that on occasion we would even nick them directly from the fryer when my mother’s back was turned. So adept were we at hovering and feigning assistance when we could smell something delicious in the offing.
And so it transpired that my simple compote became a delicious accompaniment for a rather large batch of fluffy zeppole. The texture of these crisp little pastry balls is softer and less cake like than a traditional doughnut. Made from basic kitchen pantry ingredients; butter, sugar, eggs and flour there is no yeast involved. No kneading and proving. Just a choux pastry batter flavoured with citrus and perhaps a little rum, dropped by the teaspoonful into hot oil. They were mixed, cooked and eaten within the hour by a very appreciative audience. The trade-off ? They were responsible for the clearing of the kitchen and the washing up.
Zeppole With A Rhubarb and Strawberry Compote.
Makes about 2 dozen
1 cup water
110 grams unsalted butter
1/4 cup caster sugar, plus more for dusting
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup plain flour, sifted
3 -4 large eggs
1 tablespoon rum
1 teaspoon orange peel, grated
1 teaspoon lemon peel, grated
safflower or peanut oil, for frying
Preparing the Choux Pastry Batter
PLACE water, butter, sugar and salt into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the flour all at once, beating vigorously with a wooden spoon over medium heat until the dough leaves the sides of the pan and forms a ball around the spoon.
REMOVE from heat and quickly beat in eggs, one at a time, beating until the batter is smooth after each addition. The pastry dough should be smooth and stretchy and fall easily off a wooden spoon. If it reaches this stage before you’ve added all the eggs don’t add the rest. You are aiming for a good dropping consistency that holds its shape well. If the mixture is too stiff (not enough egg) then the zeppole will be too heavy. If the mixture is too wet (too much egg), they will not hold their shape when dropped into the hot oil.
ADD rum, orange zest and lemon zest. Continue beating until mixture is smooth and glossy.
LEAVE to rest, covered at room temperature, for at least 30 minutes.
Frying the Zeppole
POUR enough oil into a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or wok to fill the pan about a third of the way. Heat the oil to 180 C.If you don’t have a thermometer, test the temperature with a small cube of bread. When dropped in the oil it should turn golden brown in about a minute. Once the oil reaches the correct temperature, reduce the heat to low. Otherwise the temperature of the oil will continue to rise causing the zeppole to burn.
CAREFULLY drop rounded teaspoonfuls of the batter into the oil, no more than 6 at a time to avoid overcrowding the pan and zeppole sticking to one another. The zeppole will puff up and double in size.
FRY, turning every now and then, until puffed and golden brown on all sides, about 5 to 6 minutes per batch. Remember to adjust the heat to maintain the temperature of the oil at 180 C as the zeppole fry. If the oil is too hot they will brown too quickly on the outside and remain uncooked on the inside. Bring the temperature of the oil back to 180 C before starting each new batch.
REMOVE zeppole from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain well on paper towels before rolling in sugar. Serve hot with the rhubarb and strawberry compote.
Rhubarb and Strawberry Compote
2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 cups rhubarb, sliced into bite size pieces
zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup water
COMBINE the strawberries, rhubarb, lemon juice, sugar and water in a medium sized sauce pan.
BRING to a boil and then reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, or longer if you prefer a thicker compote.
SERVE warm or cold.