“Viareggio è il Carnevale” (“Viareggio is the Carnival”). Walking on Viareggio’s jetty you can’t help but noticing this sentence standing on the opposite wall in the middle of the sea. A clear reminder that people here have salmastro (a word that embrace the sea and its salted smell and taste) and confetti flowing in their veins.
Viareggio Carnival has been running for 143 years, and around its history craftsmanship and traditions have developed, consolidating a strong local identity. Countless songs have been written to celebrate the Sunday show and the rioni, the evening parties happening in different areas of Viareggio. They are simple songs, but they clearly show the unconditioned love between the people who was born here, the sea, the papier-mâché and Carnival.
Come here for Carnival during the Sunday Parade and dive into the crowd, let yourself feel tiny near the huge Carnival floats, and get involved into the global enthusiasm of masked people, animating the floats and the whole promenade.
If you come on a sunny day, you should get a ride on the Ferris wheels. From the top, you will grasp the entire show created by floats, people and the close sea. (photos below from previous years Carnival)
Carnival means also greed, and here the most typical treat in this period of the year its’ the frittella di riso, a sweet rice fritter.
Mainly there are two types: a more rustic variety with a lot of rice and no filling; the other one, which is my favourite, where fritters look big, perfectly puffed-up, light and generously stuffed with custard or Italian chantilly.
The recipe I propose here is for the second type, and it came out from different experiments, starting from the base recipe for pâte à choux by Philippe Conticini. For those who don’t know this dough, it’s the base for profiterole, éclair and many other preparations I adore from the French patisserie.
If you come to Viareggio for Carnival (and you should), I leave you the addresses for the best rice fritters in town:
- Pasticceria Mantovani, Via San Martino 111, tel. 0584.940333. It’s located in the center (mercato area), and the fritters you see in the photo above are from this pastry shop. The photo speaks for itself!
- Pasticceria Gambalunga, Via Sant’Andrea 34, tel. 0584 962116. They have amazing rice fritters, light and generously stuffed with custard. You could also tasting one befanino (the typical cookie of Viareggio), for me the best in town.
- Cafè Fappani, Viale Marconi 1, tel 0584.941201. Fantastic location, directly on the promenade in Piazza Mazzini. A reference pastry shop for viareggini since forever, especially for rice fritters.
SWEET RICE FRITTERS OF VIAREGGIO CARNIVAL
for the rice:
200 g short-grain rice
500 ml milk
300 ml water + one pot of water
40 g sugar
zest from half a lemon scorza di mezzo limone (in big pieces, not grated)
1/2 vanilla bean
Pâte à choux:
130 g water
130 g milk
110 g butter
150 g flour
pinch of salt
240-260 g eggs (about 4 eggs)
1/2 vanilla bean, 1/2 lemon zest
The evening before (or at least 12 hours before frying):
Boil one pot of water, pour the rice in and let it cook for just 2 minutes. Thanks to this operation, you’ll get rid of the extra starch and the rice won’t have a floury flavour.
Drain the rice and wash it under running water.
In a pot boil the milk together with water, sugar, lemon zests and the seeds inside half a vanilla bean. As soon as it boils, pour the rice and let it cook for about 30 minutes. The rice should look overcooked and have absorbed the liquids. Pour the rice in a large bowl, let it cool down and put it in the fridge for about 10-12 hours.
The following day:
Remove the rice from the fridge and start preparing the pâte à choux.
Put the milk together with water and pieces of butter and let it gently boil up, so that the butter melts completely.
As soon as it boils, pour in one batch the flour and stir well the dough on a medium-low heat for about 4-5 minutes. The dough will dry up and a film will appear at the bottom of the pan.
Cool down the dough in a bowl for about 5 minutes and with a spoon, or an electric mixer introduce grated lemon zests, the seeds of half a vanilla bean and the eggs, one egg at a time. It’s important to introduce the next egg just when the previous one is completely mixed.
When the pâte à choux is ready, weigh 500 g (or a bit more) of rice. After the overnight rest, the rice will look compact, and you have to rub it carefully to separate the rice without breaking the grains.
Stir in well the rice into the pâte à choux.
Heat the vegetable oil up to 180°, and in the meanwhile put the dough in a sac à poche. Cut the final part of the sac à poche, so that you get a hole with a diameter of 3 cm. The sac à poche helps you to get rounded fritters, but it’s not necessary.
When the oil reaches the temperature, form the fritters about 2 cm long, squeezing the sac à poche directly over the oil and cut the dough with a knife.
Cook at 170° (the oil doesn’t have to be too hot) for about 6 minutes, turning the fritters constantly. You understand they are ready, when they will be puffed up and if you try to lift them they will be nice and light.
Drain the fritters over kitchen paper, and when still hot turn them into granulated sugar.
They are incredibly nice already as plain fritters, but they’re even better stuffed with custard or Italian chantilly.
Good to know: they are still amazing after some hours!
This post is also available in: Italian