The holiday season is upon us and I want to give a big thank you to my readers, subscribers and the community I’ve found online. I’ve had a fabulous first year with this blog so I’m gifting to you, my readers, two of my favourite recipes for the holidays. The first is up today: my family’s Italian Potato Doughnuts recipe. The second, a favourite cookie of mine, comes later this week. Merry Christmas from my kitchen to yours!
Italian potato doughnuts, also known as Colluri in my family, are a winter/holiday specialty. When the weather started to turn really cold in November, my grandfather would start on a big batch of these and invite over extended family to enjoy them with a glass of wine. These doughnuts are fluffy and easy to scarf down even though they are made from potatoes. The dough is also perfect for making panzerotti – pouches filled with sauce and cheese – or sardine-filled snacks. And if you want to make it Canadian-Italian, spread the dough flat, fry and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar for a Beavertail.
While we call them Colluri, really these doughnuts go by many names. I am tempted to say the name is different for every region in Italy, but I’m afraid the truth is it’s different for every town and, possibly, every family. Whenever I mention these doughnuts to another Italian, they say “oh yeah, but we call them….” Some of the names they also may go by: cullurielli, ciambelle, bomboloni, buffarede, grispelle and zeppoli. For me, zeppoli are much more like Jerry’s version featured on this blog last week. But like I said, each family has their own name for things.
The most important part of this doughnut recipe though is that it makes quite a few dozen. Which means it calls for a lot of people to eat them. Which means a lot of people need to help make them. Which means family is together, the house is loud, the food is plentiful and well, we all end up stuffed and on the couch. A perfect Italian Sunday, particularly in the winter. Best thing is, they are a great treat for Christmas and are amazing warmed up in the toaster oven so the outside gets nice and crispy even two or three days later. You have to try these.
Italian Potato Doughnuts
2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
10-12 medium potatoes, boiled and peeled (use a dry potato like Yukon Gold or Russet, rather than a waxy potato)
3-4 cups cold water
1 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 ounce hard liqueur (whisky, rum or brandy)
2 tablespoons salt
5 pounds all-purpose flour
Boil the potatoes until cooked through (easily pierced with a fork). You can remove the peels before boiling or boil the potatoes first and when you are able to handle them, remove the peels. Process the potatoes through a ricer while they are still quite warm (the colder they get the harder it is to mash them) into a large bowl. You can also mash them very well with a potato masher, just be sure there are no chunks of potato left. Mix the cold water in with the potatoes until the mixture is very loose, like soup.
Meanwhile prepare the yeast. Add one teaspoon of sugar to the two cups of warm water and stir. Add the yeast and let it activate. It’s ready when it has bubbled up.
To the potato mixure, add the oil, eggs, liquor and salt and stir well. When ready, add the yeast mixture to the potato mixture and stir.
Preparing the dough can be done two different ways: in a very large mixer or by hand on a wooden board. For the mixer route, place the flour into the mixer bowl. Slowly pour the liquid mixture into the flour and mix on medium until the dough comes together. The dough is ready when it begins to form a ball, but is still a bit sticky to the touch. Be careful not to work the dough too much. Alternatively, you can mound the flour onto a wooden board and create a well in the middle. Slowly pour the liquid mixture into the well of flour. With a fork, slowly mix the flour into the liquid from the edge of the well. When the liquid has taken on most of the flour, use your hands to fully incorporate the flour, kneading it well. Add more flour as needed into order to get a bread dough feel that is still a bit sticky.
Place the dough in a large plastic bag or bowl and cover with a towel. Let it rise until it is more than double in size (about 1.5 hours depending on the temperature). When the dough is ready, pour it out onto a well-floured board. Cut the dough into strips and roll out into thick ropes, using your palms. Form these ropes into doughnuts by creating a circle and pinching the two ends together tightly. Place on a tray covered with a well-floured piece of parchment paper or kitchen towel. Cover the doughnuts with a towel as you make them so that the outside does not get a crust before frying.
To fry the doughnuts, heat vegetable or corn oil in a large frying pan. It’s ready when you drop a small ball of dough in and it frys to golden brown almost immediately. Place the doughnuts into the oil, being careful not to crowd them. Fry for one to two minutes on one side until golden brown then flip and fry the other side until done. Remove to a colander to drain any excess oil and serve while hot.
To make panzerotti, roll out the dough with a rolling pin. Add two tablespoons of sauce or two to three slices of tomatoes, plus mozzarella, romano cheese or other ingredients of your liking to the centre of the dough. Put a bit of water on one edge of the dough with your finger or a pastry brush, fold over and seal tightly. Be sure to seal these pouches well or else they will come apart while frying and make a mess.
To make sardine pouches, drain canned sardines on a paper towel for at least one hour. Roll out a small piece of dough, slightly larger than the sardine. Place the sardine in the centre of the dough, wet one edge of the dough with water, fold over and seal well. Fry until golden brown. It’s highly recommended that you fry the panzerotti and the sardines last, after the doughnuts, as they can get a bit messy.
But messy is part of the fun. And having these to eat for a few days is part of our winter experience in our family. I hope this recipe keeps you full and warm over the holidays. Enjoy!