My visit to Parma and the Festival of Parma Ham was sponsored by the Parma Ham Consortium. This is the second of two posts on Parma ham. The first was a post on the Festival of Parma Ham in Parma, which I visited recently.
Italy is one of my most visited countries and I make a lot of Italian food at home. Yet my first bite of gnocco fritto was not in Italy nor my tiny frenetic home kitchen, it was in Toronto (more than a few) years back. I was at a restaurant that I have come to love over several visits, Buca. The first time was one of my meandering solo lunches that I indulge in when I travel (and often at home). The menu was bright and interesting, my eyes were drawn to the pasta but also to the gnocco fritto, which were served at the time with an excellent house cured lardo.
Thus sparked an obsession. I seek gnocco fritto out wherever I can and I make them at home. Gnocco Fritto simply translates as fried dumpling. They are a simple yeasted hollow bread that is fried not baked, traditionally in lard but oil will do. The dough is allowed to rise, pummelled and then rolled flat before being cut into rectangles which puff into glorious crisp pillows when fried that are hollow inside (apart from your expectation and some glorious sweet doughy air).
Don’t confuse them with gnocchi. Similar name, entirely different beast. Ok so they are both pillow like, but gnocchi is memory foam compared with gnocco frittos crisp pert pillow. Both are wonderful, when made with care. Gnocco simply means dumpling, and gnocchi is the plural of that. Fry them and then poke a hole in the side while still hot but not searing, and ram some ham in there. Ram. It. In! Eat it immediately. Sublime.
I was so excited the first time that I went to Parma. For all of the Parma ham, and all of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, both local specialties (which the name gives away, of course). Most of all I wanted to seek out lots of gnocco fritto, the perfect receptacle for a slice of Parma ham. To my surprise I couldn’t see it on any menu anywhere.
I was in Parma for the day, a trip to visit a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheesemaker and to visit a Parma ham producer. For lunch, I headed to Trattoria Corrieri, a gorgeous local family run restaurant open since 1800. I sat outside on a covered terrace next to two local businessmen indulging in an enthusiastic lunch. I saw the server arrive with what I recognised as gnocco fritto, except bigger and even more pillow like. That is when I discovered that what is gnocco fritto elsewhere is Torta Fritta in Parma and cresentine fritte in Bologna. Shaped slightly differently, but the same glorious fried bread dumpling. I first met these as gnocco fritto and so they stay named this way for me.
I ask everyone I meet how they make theirs, including on my last trip to Parma recently where every restaurant that I visited had baskets of them on the tables. It seems that these are one of those peculiar recipes that every family does their own way, and rarely want to share the details. For the traditional one, lard is key (Italian strutto), both in the bread itself and also for frying in. Lard or dripping is the best oil for frying almost everything, including chips, fried chicken and fish. But, if you prefer not to use it, you can use any other good frying oil. I have made these with rapeseed and they turn out super well.
Almost better – and very very good – is to put some chocolate in there. Want it fancier? Dark chocolate, a little ricotta and a mint leaf, dust the lot with icing (powdered) sugar. Dreamy. What about some cherries soaked in kirsch then prodded in with a lick of mascarpone? So many delicious possibilities.
- 250g plain flour (I prefer bread flour for this)
- 7g yeast
- 30g lard or 30 ml oil (rapeseed or extra virgin)
- 5g sea salt (approx 1 tsp)
- 125 ml lukewarm water (approx)
- oil or lard for frying - enough to fill a frying pan 1 inch deep
- Parma ham - as much as you like! And lots of it.