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cullurelli calabrese
Cullurelli (Calabrese Christmas Eve fritters using fresh yeast, flour and mashed potatoes)
Originated from: Calabria, Italy
Occasion: Christmas Eve
Contributed by: Adapted from an Italian cookbook published in the 1960s

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4 cups flour
3/4 ounce fresh yeast
2 teaspoons salt
2 potatoes, boiled and mashed
lukewarm water (enough to make a soft dough)

For deep frying
vegetable oil

For topping


Boil the potatoes and then mash them.

Mix the fresh yeast in 1 cup lukewarm water and wait till it bubbles up.

Mix the flour, salt and mashed potatoes with the proofed yeast, adding as much water as is needed to make a soft dough.

Form the dough into a ball.

Place the dough in a greased container. Cover. Allow the dough to rest in a warm room, until it doubles in volume.

When the dough is risen, take a piece of the dough and shape into a donut, or into an irregular log (about 6 inches long, 3/4 inch thick).

Repeat the process until all the dough is used up.

Heat up the oil and fry till golden brown.

Before serving sprinkle table sugar on the fritters.


Southern Italians have hundreds of names for fried yeast dough served on Christmas Eve. The names are aplenty but the shapes are not -- the fritters are formed as balls, donuts or logs. Generally, for Christmas Eve the yest dough does not include sugar or other additions, but rather is kept plain. Prior to World War II Christmas Eve celebrations were rather low key in the South. Back then, according to Roman Catholic tradition, the meal on Christmas Eve had to be meatless (Meat was considered a luxury and by denying it Catholics were practicing self-denial). In the Italian countryside meat was rarely eaten as it was too expensive so self-denial was practiced on a daily basis, be that as it may, whatever was served on Christmas Eve retained a wholesome but plain quality. Those fritters that were served were stuffed with sardines or anchovies or if they were served at the end of the meal, were dusted with sugar and that's about it. Now, for Christmas Day and for other celebrations like Carnival and the Feast Day of St. Joseph, home cooks in various regions of the South, particularly in Puglia and Campania, did add all sorts of flavorings to their fritters, such as lemon or orange zest. However, it seems that in Northern Italy Christmas Eve fritters were much more elaborate -- they generally included raisins, nuts, lemon zest, cinnamon, vanilla extract or liqueur. Still, it might be a mistake to make such broad generalizations. When it comes to home cooking, there is no "one" way of making a fritter or a main meal -- anything goes (Well, almost!). Some cookbooks describe cullurelli as donut-shaped, others as balls, and still others as cylinders or logs. In Calabria as in other regions of Italy, what is "traditional" depends a lot on what specific village or town the home cook comes from, as well, of course, his or her personal preferences. Comments and photo: Mary Melfi.

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