I wasn’t raised in a particularly Italian household, as far as New York-based Italian-American families go. There were no heavy Sopranos-esque accents, no Sunday dinners that started at noon, no nonna with an apron wielding a spaghetti spoon. My father is of Italian-American origin, and while we were raised on my German-Irish mother’s incredible renditions of lasagna, I don’t identify that closely with those who spent weekends in September canning tomato sauce with aunts and cousins.
The first time I ventured onto Arthur Avenue was almost accidental: I accompanied a friend – an Italophile so American he could trace his ancestry to the Mayflower – to the covered market so that he could pick up what he claimed was the best prosciutto in the city. Until this point, I had never strongly identified with my Italian background; trips to Rome and Florence, while beautiful, never gave me the strange feeling of “coming home” that walking into the boisterous market and pushing our way back to Mike’s Deli did. The smells and sounds seemed to come from a different part of my childhood, a piece I didn’t remember clearly, but a piece that existed all the same.
My pure-blooded Italian-American father had spent so much time and effort to be in Manhattan that he never thought the next generation would demand what he had left behind, but demand I did. I started spending hours wandering around the Bronx, listening in on conversations between old men in café chairs, selecting the best of meats and cheeses from Mike’s, and wondering what it would have been like to have been raised here instead of on the Upper East Side. My father wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but he was nothing less than pleased when, one Christmas, alongside traditional pies and cakes, I presented a dish of traditional struffoli.
I had never tried the honey-drowned cookies before, merely admired them in the windows of bakeries on Arthur Avenue as November turned to December, but one taste, and my father was propelled back in time, to the childhood that I didn’t have. He remembers his sisters’ struffoli, covered in tiny rainbow sprinkles. He remembers the boisterous accents, the long Sunday afternoons spent with cousins, aunts and uncles. As for me… I just remember Arthur Avenue.
Summary: Bite-Sized Italian Deserts
- 2 – 2/12 cups flour
- 3 Tbsp. sugar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 3 large eggs
- Vegetable oil for frying
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 cup honey
- 1/3 cup nonpareil rainbow sprinkles
- Sift together 2 cups flour, sugar and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the center.
- Whisk eggs together with lemon zest and pour into the well. Fold the eggs into the flour mixture, then turn out onto a floured surface, adding more flour until you can just knead the dough into a ball. Cover the ball of dough with a damp kitchen towel.
- Prepare a pan or plate for the finished fried dough balls, covering it with paper towel. Heat the vegetable oil in a wide saucepan over medium heat. Wait 5-10 minutes for the oil to heat, then pinch off a tiny bit of dough. If it sizzles and slowly rises to the top of the oil, it’s hot enough.
- While the oil heats, cut the dough in eighths. Roll the eighths into long ropes, about 1/2 inches thick. Cut each of the ropes into small, equal pieces and roll them into small balls, a bit larger than a grape but smaller than a golf ball.
- Cook the dough in batches, making sure not to overcrowd your pan. Fry until golden, about 2 minutes, and then drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining dough. Transfer drained struffoli into a large bowl.
- While the last batch of struffoli are frying, slowly heat the honey. Pour over struffoli and toss well to coat.
- To serve, grease a large serving dish with butter or cooking spray, and pile the struffoli into a Christmas tree shape. Cover with sprinkles.
Preparation time: 15 minute(s)
Cooking time: 20 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 6