Returning from vacation is never a wholly pleasant proposition, no matter how much I love my city of residence, my cozy apartment—deep-pile carpet notwithstanding—or my trusty little kitchen, always ready and waiting. Whoever said that home is where the heart is clearly did very little traveling, and must have fallen in love with the boy next door. But if ever there were a compelling reason for renewing my vows to Seattle just when my eye was at its wandering worst, it would have to be a certain five-headed family known for its lamb roasts, immoderate whipped cream consumption, and general gastronomic generosity. New York may have nearly everything a girl could want, but it doesn’t have the Knights. And really, who else would respond with such unquestioning enthusiasm when I call to propose deep-frying a pound of ricotta cheese spiked with bourbon and lemon zest?
I’d been eyeing a recipe for frittelle di ricotta, or ricotta fritters, for nearly three months, since Saveur Cooks Authentic Italian landed on my bookshelf. It was a dangerous proposition, however, for a single-occupant household: no one should ever, under any circumstances, be left alone with two dozen ricotta fritters and a box of powdered sugar.
So the recipe waited, as many have been known to do, in a pile on the kitchen counter, until the first twinges of fall sent me pawing after it. The nights are starting their long, slow stretch; the mornings grow cooler and cloudier; and nothing sounds so good as the homey, rustic richness of fresh ricotta, a warming nip of bourbon, and a burbling vat of oil to fry it all in. Call it the “fattening-up” instinct, but in times like these—as well as many others, of course—it’s good to know the Knight family. I’ve never minded drinking alone, but frying is another matter entirely.
So it was that I arrived at their door with a bowl of batter and a quart of canola oil. They met me with a Costco-size bag of powdered sugar and a well-seasoned wok, and on a mid-week work night, with fall unfolding on the other side of the window, we stationed ourselves before the stove, set the oil to bubbling, and we fried.
The fritters were golden and crispy to the tooth, with a lightness that belied their oily baptism. Beneath its delicate, crackling exterior, the ricotta was warm, meltingly soft and cloudlike, some ethereal intermediate between soufflé and softly scrambled egg. Perfumed with bourbon and the lightly bitter edge of lemon zest, its clean dairy flavor became something complex, both edgy and soothing.
Kate gave the fritters a good snowy sprinkling of sugar, while the family patriarch, declaring them “pure ambrosia,” sent up a cry for the whipped cream siphon. Without the Knights, dear reader, the world might never have known a lily so gilded as a cream-topped, powdered-sugar-dusted ricotta fritter.
I may have passed on the cream, myself, but I did manage to get three fat fritters past these lips. And from atop that boozy cloud of fried cheese, home was a very pleasant proposition indeed.
Frittelle di Ricotta, or Ricotta Fritters
Adapted from Saveur Cooks Authentic Italian
This recipe, as written in the cookbook, calls for a whopping four tablespoons (¼ cup!) of baking powder. Not excited about the idea of chalky, chemical-flavored fritters, I guessed that the editors must have meant four teaspoons, which wound up working beautifully here. The original recipe also calls for brandy, but I substituted Woodford Reserve bourbon instead, since I didn’t have any brandy lying around. I’ve listed both here, so use whichever you see fit—but make sure that you like its flavor, because it comes through with a good degree of prominence. In fact, we lovingly—and with only slight exaggeration—dubbed our finished fritters “bourbon balls.” Also, be sure to use a good, fresh ricotta, such as the Calabro hand-dipped type, or try making your own.
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbs granulated sugar
1 lb ricotta, preferably fresh; if yours is especially wet, drain off any excess moisture before beginning
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
4 Tbs good-quality brandy or bourbon
2 tsp finely chopped lemon zest
A pinch of salt
Vegetable oil, such as canola, for frying
Powdered sugar, for serving
In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except the oil and powdered sugar. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate for one hour.
Pour oil into a large saucepan, Dutch oven, or wok to a depth of about 3 inches. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking, about 375 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of ricotta batter into the hot oil, and fry, two or three at a time, until golden, about 4-5 minutes, turning with a slotted spoon or skimmer as necessary.
Drain the fritters on paper towels, dust them with plenty of powdered sugar, and serve.
Yield: about 20-25 2-inch fritters