My Sicilian grandmother, Francesca, is passionate about cooking, so much so that she still continues to cook on a daily basis, even after suffering from a stroke that paralyzed her right side. She is full of recipes and many of them have been passed down from her ancestors. The following recipe for “sfinci” was passed down to my grandmother from her mother, Cecilia.
“Sfinci” are similar to doughnuts. They are most commonly prepared with potato puree, sugar, eggs and flour. In this recipe, the ricotta replaces the potato puree. With that said, it is best to make these treats with fresh ricotta, preferably sheep’s milk ricotta.
As for the history of sfinci, a 19th century historian, Michele Amari, claimed that sfinci were first introduced to Sicily by the Arabs in the 10th century. On the other hand, culinary historian, Pino Correnti, purports that sfinci are derived from a type of sweet that the ancient pagan inhabitants of the island made to welcome the arrival of the winter solstice. In either scenario, the sfinci have been a part of Sicilian cuisine for centuries.
Today, in Sicily, sfinci are often made in the spring, when the ricotta is fresh. They are a common staple sweet for the Feast of Saint Joseph (“San Giuseppe” in Italian), which is celebrated on March 19th.
RECIPE FOR SFINCI
1/2 cup Sugar
1 1/2 lbs Ricotta
2 cups + 2 tablespoons of Flour
4 teaspoons of Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Vanilla
Vegetable Oil for frying
1 Cup Millefiore Honey or 1/4 cup Granulated Sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons of cinnamon.
1. Beat the eggs in an upright mixer with the sugar until the mixture turns a pale yellow color.
2. Add the ricotta, followed by the flour, baking soda and vanilla. Make sure all ingredients are incorporated well.
3. Heat a few inches of vegetable oil in a pan. I like to use a cast iron pot. Bring the oil to 375 degrees fahrenheit. If you do not have a thermometer, you can check if the oil is hot enough by placing a dollop of dough in the oil. If it starts to sizzle lightly and rise to the top of the oil, it is probably the right temperature. If however, the dough turns to a brown color quickly, the inside of the ball will not be cooked sufficiently, indicating that the oil is too hot.
4. Fill a tablespoon with dough and hold the spoon in your hand over the oil. Using the thumb of your other hand, push the dough into the hot oil.
5. Fry each ball for about 2-3 minutes or until they turn a golden brown color. They should be light and fluffy.
6. Place cooked sfinci on a plate lined with paper towels to drain any excess oil.
7. When cooled, place the sfinci in a brown paper bag. Toss them with honey or with the cinnamon and sugar mixture. Serve immediately.