Carnevale is Italy’s version of Mardi Gras, the big blow-out before the restrictions of Lent begin on Ash Wednesday. It’s a winter festival celebrated throughout the country with parades, music, masks, masquerade and (of course) special cookies. Easter is a bigger deal in Italy than Christmas. Likewise, Carnevale beats New Year’s in terms of festivities.
Venice, Viareggio on the Tuscany Coast and Cento in Emilia Romagna host the most extravagant and famous Carnevale festivals. But even our little village in Southern Italy celebrated in style. Both Angelo and Fernanda have fond childhood memories of throwing confetti at the Carnevale parade and eating Crostoli cookies with family and friends. We’ve continued to celebrate Carnevale in America by cooking a big, festive meal and sharing crostoli with our family and friends.
Crostoli is the classic dolci for the winter festival of Carnevale. These “little crusts” are rectangular, paper-thin pastries fried in palm oil then dusted with confectioner’s sugar to form light, crispy treats. In Italy, every town has its own special name for them: Crostoli (little crusts), Cenci (rags), Nastri (ribbons), Bugie (lies), and Chiacchere (the sounds of patter or gossip) to name a few.
You can serve Crostoli with ice cream (hazelnut is particularly good), but our family tradition is to serve crostoli alongside a generous bowl of ricotta spread. This Italian take on chips and dip gives you bites of cannoli without the mess. Because the recipe is not too sweet, it can be served as either an appetizer or dessert. It’s easy to make and can be prepared ahead of time. Don’t expect to have any leftovers. Mangia!
Whip ricotta, powdered sugar, vanilla and almond extract with an electric mixer until smooth and light. Fold in chocolate chips and the lemon and orange zest.
Refrigerate. Remove when ready to be served.
These light, semi-sweet festival cookies are one of our favorites. We serve them throughout the Carnevale season as well as at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But we also enjoy them throughout the year whenever there’s a gathering of family or friends. They are a simple and traditional “get together” cookies. If there’s a card game on, you can expect a bowl of Crostoli at hand.
Crostoli can be paired with cappuccino, espresso, coffee, tea, milk or wine. The sweetness of dessert wines such as Vin Santo, Asti Spumante, Sherry or Port brings out the flavor of the cookies.