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screppelle or scrapelle
Screppelle / Scrapelle Version I (Traditional Molisani fried dough, using yeast, flour and potatoes, Christmas Eve fritters)
Originated from: Casacalenda, Molise, Italy
Occasion: San Giuseppe, Christmas and Carnival
Contributed by: Mary Melfi (her mother's recipe)

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6 to 7 cups flour (or "as much as is needed")
1 packet traditional active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
2 potatoes, boiled and mashed (About a cup)
2 to 3 cups warm water (or "as much as is needed")

For deep frying
about 3 cups vegetable oil**

For Garnish
Regular table sugar for sprinkling and dipping, served in a large container so all guests can use it

**Prior to World War II olive oil was generally used for deep frying in Southern Italy, though lard was sometimes used as well. Nowadays most North Americans of Italian origin use all-purpose vegetable oil; however, most cooks, Italian or otherwise, agree that canola oil or peanut oil is best for frying as these oils don't leave an aftertaste.

*Spellings vary. In Molise the fritter is known as "screppelle," and in dialect as "scr'pell'" and/or "scr'pell' natalizie" -- Christmas "screppelle"; in North America, it is sometimes spelled as "scrippelle"; other spellings include: "scrapelle," "scrapelli,""scarpell," "scurpelle," "scrappelles," "scrippelles," and "screppelli." Please note that while these words generally refer to long columns of fried dough in the region of Molise, in other parts of Italy they may describe other types of dishes. In Abruzzo, the word, "scrippelle," refers to Italian-style crepes. For recipes for Abruzzi-style "Scrippelle" see the categories: "Fritters," "X Italian Soups" and "X Italian Pasta Dishes."


o Proof the yeast (according to packet directions).

o Mix all the ingredients and work into a fine dough as you would for pizza or bread.

o Shape the soft and smooth dough into a ball, and dust flour over its surface. Place in a floured container with a lid (should be large enough for the dough to double in size). Alternatively, one can use a touch of oil to grease the pan in which the dough rests in. Some cooks prefer to flour the pan (My mother does), others prefer to grease the container.

o Cover the container with a blanket, and let the dough rest over-night.

o In the morning rework rested dough. [Alternatively, one forgo the first few steps, and use fresh unbaked dough bought from an Italian pastry shop.]

o Start to heat up the oil for deep frying.

o Cut a chunk of dough about the size of a baseball and lightly flour it (My mother's method). Alternatively, one can cut a chunk of dough and then rub a touch of vegetable oil on the palms of one's hands and then shape the screppelle (My method).

o Stretch out the chunk of dough into strips of dough about 22 inches long (A ball of dough made with 1 kilo flour should make about 3 or 4 screppelle).

o After the first screppelle has been shaped, check the oil to make sure it is the right temperature. To make sure it is the right temperature, add a piece of bread to it, if the oil sizzles, then it is ready for use. Deep fry the stretched-out dough (are swirled in a very large frying pan) until it is golden brown in color).

o Place on kitchen paper towels and let drain.

o Continue cutting the dough into chunks and frying....

o Cool.

o Cover the screppelle with a linen cloth or plastic wrap (They dry quickly). If you will be serving the screppelle on the same day or the next day you can place them in the fridge. For longer periods it is best to freeze them.

o The screppelle can be served at room temperature or warmed up. Most cooks warm up a small portion of their screppelle prior to serving (in the oven at 300 degrees F for about 5 minutes), and keep some at room temperature. later, if more screppelle are in demand, the next batch is warmed up. Some cooks sprinkle a touch of sugar on the screppelle prior to serving, others do not. In any case, it is imperative for the cook to place a large bowl of sugar on the table so that guests can dip their screppelle directly into the sugar. Most guests tear off a chunk of screppelle and dip the exposed fried dough into the sugar, others roll the entire chunk of screppelle in the sugar bowl....


Basically, any pizza dough can be used to make screppelle (sometimes spelled, "screppelle," "scrapelle" or "scrippelle"). In some areas of Molise boiled potatoes were used to make the dough, other areas, potatoes were not used. In any case, if you're not into making dough, you can buy unbaked pizza dough at a local Italian pastry shop and use that to make your screppelle. "La Casa della Pizza" in Montreal located at 5540 Jean-Talon East sell a really good dough. This shop's unbaked dough is almost identical to the one my own mother and late aunts made. Anyway, using store-bought dough cuts down the work and doesn't impair the quality all that much. Of course, the bigger the chunks of dough you cut out, the longer the columns of dough you'll get. Unfortunately, the longer the columns of dough, the harder it is to cook the dough properly. If the dough is too thick in the center, it might not cook through; if the strips are too thin, they might break. Experience helps, so does patience. I have to admit that even though I watched my mother make the dough twice, each time she did it, she varied the amount of flour and water used so I wasn't able to write down the exact amount down. As my mother says, she can't tell me the exact amount 'cause it all depends on the heat, humidity, type of flour used etc. So one adds "as much as needed." I sometimes wonder, if the words, "as much as needed" which regularly appear in Italian recipes to this day (Even on those on the Internet written by world-renowned chefs!) are simply a means to pass the buck. A polite way of saying, "If the recipe doesn't work out, don't blame me!" In any case, Italian cooks are versatile and are quick to modify "traditional" recipes to suit their needs. It seems, for example, that prior to World War II those living in Molise made their screppelle very long (over 20 inches). However, those who came to Canada in the 1950s, shortened the fritter. They had no choice. In Italy most households owned extra-large frying pans, in Canada such frying pans were unavailable. So the new arrivals simply modified the recipe. Actually, in Molise, the length of the fritter varied from town to town. For example in Santa Croce the dough was so long that it had to be wrapped around one's arm while making it. In Santa Croce the dough uses more flour, so the shaping is easier. In Canada some new arrivals didn't just cut the size of the dough in half, but in quarters. Personally I like the strips long, and the dough light and fluffy. The reason for this is not just because that's how my mother made them (though that might be a factor) but I prefer them long primarily because the dish is supposed to be a "communal" one. Guests are expected to take chunks of the fritter and dip their chunks in a communal sugar bowl. This contributes to a shared sense of fun. Or intimacy.... One more thing, I used to think that screppelle were only made for the Christmas holidays and/or for the Feast Day of San Giuseppe, but it turns out that screppelle were also made for Carnival festivities. In North America no one took note of Carnival, so those Italians who came to North America in the 1950s, also ignored it. In Italy Carnival was an important event for children as that's when they went knocking on doors, "trick or treating," and getting all kinds of good foods. In North America kids did that on Halloween, and so that's what Italians did as well. The old ways were forgotten.... P.S. Low and behold it turns out that "screppelle" were not necessarily made just for the holidays but were put together any time a cook had some left-over dough on hand. Apparently, the word, "Screppelle" means "chunks" or "scraps" of dough. My Zia Rosina recently informed me that when she was living in Italy (Talking about the 1940s now!) she herself did just that. As "screppelle" fritters used the same yeast dough as the one used for bread or pizza, people simply fried what was left-over. Some used the left-over bits to make fried pizza, others shaped the dough and and made small-sized screppelle. When those who lived in Molise immigrated to Canada in the 1950s, they found that bread was incredibly cheap here, so most new arrivals did not feel the need to make their own. Without yeast dough on hand, there was no reason to make "screppelle" (No left over dough to use!). So, screppelle were only done for Christmas and/or the Feast Day of Saint Joseph.... Yet one more thing, somewhat contradictory in nature (They say this is the information age, but sometimes information is slow a-coming, especially when those who can dish out the info are in the kitchen preparing tonight's dinner and frankly don't give a damn about yesteryear's cook outs.).... While at my Zia Rosina's house bite-size screppelle were prepared any old time, still, at my maternal grandmother's house (according to my mom) they weren't. Apparently, Nonna Seppe, my maternal grandmother, never had any left-over dough -- she was that poor! She didn't have much sugar to spare either. So the only time my Nonna Seppe made screppelle was on The Feast Day of Saint Joseph! So "screppelle" can thus be -- or cannot be! -- be considered a Christmas, Carnival or San Giuseppe fritter (It all depends on whether one's close of kin were rich or poor). So when my parents immigrated, my mother continued to make screppelle on the Feast Day of Saint Joseph and at no other time, but this was not the case at my aunt's house. My Zia Rosina often fries left-over pizza dough, sweetens it with sugar, and gives it to her grandchildren.... Now I am repeating myself, when all I should have said is that one should never trust someone else's information regarding one's culinary heritage, for what was true for one family "in the old country," is not necessarily true for another.... One more thing -- this style of fritter is very common throughout the South, the variations are rather minor. Sometimes flavorings are added (e.g., lemon zest) and sometimes the fritters are made roundish rather than longish etc. Still, most first-generation Italian-Canadians are very fond of their particular way of doing their fritters, and consider anything that doesn't resemble their own as being "not quite right." In the various towns and villages in Molise the "screppelle" fritters don't differ so much in shape as they do in texture. Townspeople will compare their fritters by the softness and hardness of the dough. If I'm not mistaken (I might be) but it seems that "screppelle" fritters made in Casacalenda are on the softish side. Or rather, "were" on the softish side. Nowadays, fewer and fewer home cooks both in North America as well as in Italy, stick to "tradition." They make fritters with a variety of flavorings. For a modern-day Molisana take on the traditional "screppelle" recipe see the entry entitled: "Screppelle, Version II and for a personal take on this recipe see, "Mary's Screppelle".... Photo: by the contributor.

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