Pettole, My Golden Nuggets of Salvation

January 18th, 2007 · Tags: Food · Italy · Puglia

I have been having camera issues, so I bought a new compact digital. Yet, it doesn’t work like I want it to, especially in the macro mode (that’s where all those close-ups come from, people!). And then yesterday, my old one starts working again. Argh. So now I get to deal with one of the most exciting parts of Italy: the bureaucracy, as I try to take back the new camera (it’s still within a week).

I still have quite a few pictures from my break down in Puglia, and this is one of my favorite memories. And we’re back to fried, mentally and literally. The break seems like a long time ago.

Pettole are typically Pugliese, but it may be known in other regions with different names. You take a basic yeast dough (similar to pizza) and dip it in delicious Pugliese oil and then fry it to hell.

Golden Nugget of Pettole

Sometimes eaten with a meal instead of bread, in Sante’s area, the pettole are traditionally eaten the 24th of December, in this case with a very traditional lunch of anguille (eel) and vegetables. I don’t mind eel but all the bones and skin make it a lot of work for not very much pay-off. This year my mother-in-law also cooked some of the anguille in the oven which was much easier to dissect.

Anguille

I sat down to the table, ready for my obligatory dish of anguille which is almost a superstitious meal to me now, and looked around for my saving grace, the pettole. If I was lucky, and fast, I could sneak 2-3 pieces in with my meal while the others dissected the eel.

But I saw none of the golden, crispy pieces on the table.

No pettole???

How would I shove large pieces of the golden fried bread in with my meager pickings of eel this year? Luckily my mother-in-law understood immediately. “Don’t worry,” she assured me, “we’ll go out and get some later.”

So, we hit the streets. Literally.

Manfredonia has some of the most frustrating traffic of any city I’ve ever been in, yet it’s quite small, about 70,000 people. It’s a maze of historically small streets and hard corners and turns that force any hot-rodders to slow down and any hurry to be set on the back-burner as you wade through the traffic.

So it makes sense that clever entrepreneurs would take to the streets with their wares. This time it was just what we were looking for. And apparently lots of other people were looking for pettole as well.

Pettole in action

There’s something about deep-frying that you can’t really leave to amateurs. That meager 1/2 inch of oil you’ve tentatively poured into a frying pan is nothing compared to a boiling pool of oil calibrated to fry perfectly.

[Click through to my site for two embedded videos to watch pettole being made]

My in-laws worked a few inside connections to jump the line (sometimes they pull the “daughter-in-law is American” card) and we walked away before the rest of the crowd with a paper bag filled with steaming-hot pettole.

Inside the Pettole

And all was right.

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10 Comments

10 responses so far ↓

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  • 1
    Jeffo // Jan 18, 2007 at 9:34 am

    Oh yes pettole!! A friend of mine just had a birthday party and his mom made dam good pettole (on top of everything else). It’s so good hot! There is something to be said for living at home even in your 30s!!! I wasn’t here at Christmas so this was my “pettole fix”.
    While your doing fried stuff.. My bakery had these “fried sheets of dough” covered in sugar. I didn’t get the name and they’re gone now. They were almost cracker thin and flat with a kind of ruffled edge about size of a slice of bread. What was that?

    Jeff

  • 2
    yasmina // Jan 18, 2007 at 9:37 am

    OMG… I’m drooling over the descriptions of eel and pettole in this post… I love eel, and the pettole sounds like the Luini panzerotto dough in all it’s deep-fried crispy glory…

  • 3
    Shelley - At Home in Rome // Jan 18, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    Good luck on returning the camera, first off. Secondly, anything fried is fine in my book. But the eel, well, let’s just say you’re braver than I am. I go about as far as fish then it’s hands off anything I have to work at or “clean”. Ick. Since Italians generally can’t conceive of ANYONE not liking frutti di mare in general, sometimes I just say I’m allergic so they feel sorry for me instead of looking at me like I’m nuts. Works like a charm!
    BTW, Jeff, maybe it was what they call here in Rome frappe or castagnole. They only come out around now, for Carnevale. One of my favorite food traditions… fried with powdered sugar on top? yes, please!

  • 4
    Andi // Jan 19, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    I just found your blog. Love it!

  • 5
    Ladyg // Jan 19, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    Squisite le pettole…..peccato che non sia sempre natale!!!!

  • 6
    Ms. Adventures in Italy // Jan 19, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Jeffo – I’m going to cover that “sheet of pastry” next – they are called different names everywhere.
    Yasmina – Eel + Pettole lover? Man, you could get along great with my in-laws.
    Shelley – the allergy thing works good! I won’t go into detail with the eel dissection then, I doubt it would increase your appetite.
    Indah, thanks for re-sending your info – my contact page is down.
    Welcome Andi! Thanks!
    Grazie, Ladyg! Mi piacciono tanto! Preferisco che qualcun altro li fa. :)

  • 7
    Antonella // Jan 20, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    Eel rocks! There’s nothing to clean, unlike fish. It’s one central spine, the ‘meat’ just falls off. I fell in love in with it when I had Zuppa di Pesce at a restaurant in Termoli, our seaside town in Molise. Please Sara and Shell, give it a taste! Pettole are just like our Scr’pell (our dialect)or scarpelle in Italian, except we make them long and thin. It’s a sad trend that not a lot of people make them at home anymore. Thank goodness for paneifici. I attempted them a few years ago. Did you know if you put cooked potato in the dough they come out really tender? To avoid that greasy smell in the house I fried them outside on the gas burner of the barbecue. Pretty furba, eh?

  • 8
    elizabeth // Jan 21, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    I practically live at a little shop by my apartment in Rome run by an elderly couple from Puglia, Pina e Leonardo. EVERYTHING in there shop is wonderful! I have never had this dish, but I will ask Pina about it. They have fish (from Trani area) brought up every Friday, maybe i will have to order eel.
    Great site.

  • 9
    tracie b // Jan 22, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    mmm pizzette a napoli! and we eat capitone here for xmas, which as i understand, is a type of eel. i tried and spit it out. it tasted like freshwater catfish…ew

    but the fried bread! that will save us all :)

  • 10
    Greg Masten // Nov 22, 2007 at 11:25 pm

    Hi, I have not had any pettole since my grandmother passed away. We had it Christmas Eve, some plain, some with anchovie and some with croutons in the center of the round ball of dough. I went searching for the reciepe when I found this site. A slightly different type then I was used to, but still brings back great memories.

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