FRITTI ALLA ROMANA
In Rome, the tradition is that on Christmas Eve almost every family makes a big batch of Fritti alla Romana. It's a combination of fried vegetables, baccalà (salted codfish) and sliced apples, dipped in a simple batter and fried. This can't be done if not at the last minute. It should be served hot, crisp and fragrant because nothing is worse than waiting a whole year for soggy-oily-oven-heated-fried-food!
Nonno Giulio was the one in charge for the fritti. You wouldn't find him in the kitchen any other time of the year if not sitting at the table, but on Christmas Eve, he knew exactly how to move around like he'd been at it everyday. I can still see the image of this big man walking into the kitchen whistling as he set up his spot in front of the stove. All his women would gather round, wife, daughters, my sister and I, watching as he added the quanto basta of flour and water for the batter. He'd whisk and whisk and check the watch on his wrist. Then went a drop of batter in the hot oil to check if it was time to start. From there, each movement was mechanical, dip and drop and turn and drain. Golden brown, crunchy and perfect, yes, it was all just perfect and not just the food but the whole warmth coming from that kitchen when we were all there, together, tied to one another.
Time has flown by since then, but I don't think there's been one year, in my entire life, that our family ever skipped this tradition on Christmas. It just wouldn't be the same if we did. So here's how we make our Fritti alla Romana.
Plain white flour
sparkling mineral water, cold from the fridge
1 small romanesco
2 artichokes, sliced 1 cm thin
1 potato, sliced thin
1small piece baccala' fillet, divided in small pieces
1 apple, sliced in rounds 1 cm thick
1 litre organic peanut oil, for frying
salt to season
cinnamon and sugar for the apples
In a large bowl add the flour and cold water in equal portions, a little at a time. Add some more water until the batter become smooth, not too liquid but also not too thick. Add a couple of pinches of salt. Test the right consistency by diipping a fork in the batter. As you pull the fork up from the liquid it shouldn't stick, yet the texture should be thick enough to refrain from falling off quickly like water.
Set the batter in the fridge to rest as you prepare the vegetables. Rinse and clean the vegetables. You can preboil the romanesco for a softer texture or leave it raw but make smaller portions. Clean the artichoke and slice thinly, rub with half a lemon so it doesn't oxidate avoid it to turn brown. Peel the potato and slice in thin rounds, possibly using a mandolin, rinse under cold water and dry with a cloth. Portion the baccalà in small rectangular shapes. Peel and slice the apple in rounds, 1 cm thick, rub with half a lemon so it doesn't oxidate.
Preheat a pan, large enough to contain 1 litre of frying oil. Test if the oil is ready by dropping a small amount of the batter in the centre of the pan. It's ready when small bubbles surround the mass, soon after it will float to the surface.
Begin to fry and serve hot or warm (but not cold nor warmed up). Sorry, but it wouldn't be the same.
Dust the vegetables with salt and dust the apples with cinnamon and sugar.