Zeppole, Strufoli…Now – My Sweet, Fried Balls of Ricotta

If you’ve eaten a sweet, fried ball of something in Italy, chances are you’ve eaten zeppole, strufoli or what are sometimes referred to as “Italian doughnuts.”

What I’m about to show you are not zeppole or strufoli.

They’re way better.

And in my twisted little cooking world, these are healthier since the principal ingredient is yummy, delicious ricotta and no added oil/butter/fat is in the recipe. Um, other than the oil you’re frying them in. But focus on the healthy part I mentioned earlier.

I was introduced to these this summer when I was in Sicily. The family who introduced me to them has the luxury of owning a “cheese farm” so they have fresh ricotta everywhere. Make sure to get the ricotta as fresh as you can, unpackaged if possible.

These are so easy to make and they practically cook themselves.

Palline di ricotta, Sweet, fried balls of ricotta

Palline di Ricotta Fritte – Sweet, Fried balls of Ricotta

Note: When frying with large amounts of oil, please use caution. Wear an apron and protect your arms, if not your hands.

500g fresh ricotta
4 eggs
200g “00” (all-purpose) flour
1T. granulated sugar
2t. vanilla extract
1 lemon peel
1 packet of instant yeast (about 15g)

Optional: 2 T. Limoncello or Marsala wine

  1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Make sure the lemon peel is obtained using a microplane grater so that there are no white, bitter parts.
  2. In a deep fryer or a deep saucepan, heat several inches (4″ is a good amount) of vegetable frying oil over medium to medium-high heat. Test readiness after a few minutes by dipping a spoon with some batter (it will be very sticky and will not slide off) and see if it starts to bubble/fry.
  3. Turn heat slightly down if you were heating it quickly. Grab a large spoon and a small spatula. Scoop up batter about 1/2 of the large spoon. Then, scoop the batter off the spoon using the spatula, then scrape it back onto the spoon (trying to create a rough ball shape). You may have to do this shaping with the spatula 2-3 times until you get a rough ball on the spoon.
  4. Using the spatula, scrape the dough off the spoon into the oil, being careful not to splash.
  5. The dough will sink to the bottom, and start frying. From this point, you just have to watch them. The round shape means that the balls will turn themselves and fry evenly as you watch!
  6. Using a slotted spoon or similar, scoop the balls out of the oil, letting the excess drip back into the pan before putting them on a baking tray lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil
  7. Follow directions below to sweeten your palline di ricotta as you prefer.

Palline di ricotta, Sweet, fried balls of ricotta frying

Ways to Sweeten the Fried Balls of Ricotta

Though they are great alone (we couldn’t stop eating them), they are also great a bit sweeter. Choose your favorite, add one in the comments!

  • Granulated sugar: After removing the balls from the oil, roll them directly in a bowl of granulated sugar before putting them to cool down. The sugar will stick better.
  • Cinnamon sugar: Prepare a bowl with 1 cup of sugar for rolling and add 2 T. of cinnamon to flavor it. Roll the balls in the sugar before setting them to cool down.
  • Powdered sugar: This can be sprinkled on the cooled palline, similar to zeppole.
  • Honey: After the balls have cooled down, you can drizzle honey over them and add multicolored sprinkles like strufoli.

Inside a Palline di ricotta, Sweet, fried balls of ricotta

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  1. Giulia says

    OMG, those remind me of Dunkin’ Donuts munchkins!!! *sigh* I must now make these to satisfy my Dunkin craving! Cinnamon sugar and powdered sugar are two of my favorite toppins. :)

  2. says

    Fried edibles. Oh how do I love thee. Let me count the ways (1,2,3,4,5, ecc.) Nevermind if they say it’s baaaaad (and I don’t mean that because of the ricotta which I will presume is from sheep’s milk). Moderation is the key! But I’m still waiting for the Sette Veli dang it!

  3. Ms. Adventures in Italy says

    Daniele is right – little fried balls of dough are also called castagnole (I found them called this in Rome) and are usually a Carnevale treat. Castagnole are not made with ricotta, though. :)

  4. says

    Beautiful! And it looks so easy. And if they’re THAT healthy I see no reason why I shouldn’t allow myself a couple. Three, perhaps. Four? Ok, the whole batch.

  5. says

    Those look beautiful! It seems like there’s at least one recipe for fried balls of dough in every culture. Have you tried the Chinese dim sum staple of sesame-coated fried balls of chewy balls made of dough?

  6. says

    These look sooo good. Just yesterday i tried to make doughnuts of of flour n yeat n they were terrible. These look and sound soo much better , not to mention the wonderful texture of ricotta. I have to try these. They have come at a very perfect time.
    Found you thru steamy kitchens comments.

  7. says

    They look delicious! Definitely want to give these a go.

    A syrup that you might like to try with them is the traditional syrup we use in South Africa for our koeksusters (a type of fried, plaited doughnut). The syrup is made as per usual with sugar and water but you add a stick of cinnamon and a wedge of lemon whilst it is cooking. Once the syrup has reduced and thickened (you know, gone syrupy…) you leave it to cool then chill in the freezer.

    The doughnuts/fritte should be popped into the chilled syrup whilst still piping hot, then left to cool slightly before eating.

  8. says

    I love the picture of the inside of the ricotta ball. These seem like a better idea than regular doughnuts, which were disappointing last time I made them. This looks like a great recipe.

  9. says

    Found your blog through Chez Loulou! Wow, those look amazing! I never did try any when we were in Italy (but I guess I was too obsessed with my 3 gelatos per day!)
    Darn, i missed out!

  10. Catlyn says

    im in highschool in philadelphia pa and i had to make something similar to this for a latin project, only the ones i was told to make were drizzled in honey & rolled in poppy seeds. Either way they were delicious!

  11. Josie says

    I’d appreciate it if you could convert the 500g. of ricotta and the 200g. of flour into cups. Thanks so much for your time.

  12. Lorrie says

    These sound delish, but I don’t know how to change grams into american measures. I would love to make these please help

  13. JosieZ says

    Both my parents were from Sicily and I remember my grandmother frying these zeppoles at Christmas, we would eat them a fast as she cooked them. Can someone give the measurements that are not in grams?

    • Ms. Adventures in Italy says

      @JosieZ I know some people are having problems with the recipes in grams but I think it’s the easiest way to stay true to the recipe – I bought a cheap $20 electronic food scale and it’s made things so much easier with any recipe I find!

  14. Marilee Orr says

    Thank you for this recipe! I am the pastry chef for a high profile Italian restaurant in DC (though I’m not Italian) and these were a huge hit with the Italian owner and Chefs. They couldn’t be easier or more delicious! I have made struffoli, zeppoli, castagnole, and chiacchiere so far, and like these better than any of the others.

    By the way, I have also made koeksusters as described by the poster above. They are also delicious and the advice about the syrup is good; it keeps them from absorbing too much goo and getting soggy.

  15. Tina says

    I came across your blog on tastespotting and was pleasently rewarded with this yummy recipe =D So, thank you!!
    I tried some with cinnamon sugar and some with honey and only made just enough for one person, i prefer the cinnamon sugar as the honey made it too sweet.

  16. says

    My family is Sicilian and Calabrese, and my great-aunt made ricotta balls that were similar to these ones, except she added cinnamon to the batter *and* rolled the fried ricotta balls in cinnamon and sugar. My mom and sister make them, now, and we usually have them with a breakfast brunch for Easter and Christmas. They are so good!

  17. Andy says

    What puzzles me is the instant yeast, I would have rather expected baking powder. Do you leave the dough to rise for a few minutes, or it gets so fluffy and airy anyway?

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