Pettole – not just for Christmas (in my book!)


Pettole are crisp, light balls of yeast dough and can be either sweet or savoury. The sweet version is dusted with icing sugar, or drizzled with honey or ‘vincotto’ before serving, the savoury version traditionally has a filling of salt cod or cauliflower, but there are other, tastier, variations such as sliced olive, sundried tomatoes and anchovies.

They are very much part of a traditional Pugliese Christmas, although the day on which they are first served varies from province to province.. A traditional saying, and I won’t attempt the dialect, says that if you don’t make pettole on Christmas Eve you won’t make them for the rest of the year! Other imperatives, according to tradition, are that you don’t drink anything while making the pettole or they will absorb too much oil, you have to throw the last spoonful of batter into the fire to bring good luck and that when you transfer the first batch onto a serving plate you must keep one back or the next batch will be spoiled. It goes without saying that you must ask for the whole procedure to be blessed as you put the first spoonful into the oil or the pettole will be substandard…

Well I love them and I didn’t get round to making them at Christmas so I’m defying at least the first edict……..

Pettole are surprisingly easy to make and completely delicious, the important thing is to use plenty of oil for the deep frying; if you use olive oil then the remaining oil can be filtered and put in a bottle and reused for frying several times for about a month. Sunflower oil is fine though. The other thing is that they really should be eaten absolutely straight out of the pan, perhaps wrapped in a paper napkin. Ideal for a family supper or an informal dinner party but the cook will have to eat on the job (perhaps the reason why one must be kept back – though one wouldn’t be enough for me…) or wait until the last batch..

You will need

500 grams of plain flour
50 g fresh yeast (ideally, but if not then 15 g dried yeast)
300ml tepid water
12g salt
Plenty of oil for frying
Kitchen paper for draining

Sieve the flour into a large bowl with the salt (use less for the sweet version) and make a well in the middle

Add the fresh yeast crumbled then mixed into a paste with a little warm water or the dried yeast according to the instructions on the packet

Add a little water at a time and mix with your hands until the mixture comes away from the sides of the bowl (may take up to 15 minutes). You want a cross between a dough and a batter

For sweet pettole cover the mixture with cling film and put in a warm draught free place to rise until it has doubled in volume and has bubbles on the surface (around 2 hrs. but variable according to conditions)

For savoury pettole add pitted olives sliced into rings, chopped sun dried tomatoes, anchovy, capers – whatever you like really before leaving the mixture to rise as described for the sweet version.

When the mixture is ready heat a generous quantity of oil in a deep sided pan (at least three times the height of the pettole so better to cook a few at a time rather than using a wide pan)Prepare a plate covered with kitchen paper for draining the pettole

Test that the oil is hot enough by adding a tiny quantity of the mixture which should sizzle immediately

Take a tablespoon of the mixture at a time and slide it with your finger (easier if you have wet hands) into the oil, working fast. As soon as each pettole is golden and crispy remove with a slotted spoon and place to drain on the paper…. If you need to top the oil up, check to make sure it is once again at the correct temperature before adding more mixture.

Eat them as soon as possible and enjoy!

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