The big Venetian carnival fry-up plot unfolds every year in a similar way. On the night before Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras, the phone rings. It’s Grandma. She’s made fritole, she says, screaming into the receiver as usual, sure that I’ll hear her better if she does. ‘Can you come and pick them up?’ she asks. I look outside: it’s a gloomy, wet, foggy February night; but then again, yes, I could make the effort for a bowl of doughnuts.
I bundle up and go out. Grandma lives down the road from us, a one-minute walk door to door. I find her downstairs, as always when she’s spent the whole day cooking. She’s busy cleaning up, traces of sugar on the floor. The air is filled with a biting scent, a mix of yeast and exhausted frying oil. On the table are three small platoons of aluminium trays neatly covered with flowery kitchen paper. She grabs a tray from each group and presses them into my hands: one filled with paper-thin squares (crostoli); one with walnut-sized balls (favette), and one with a pile of spongy, pillowy fritole. ‘I thought you just made fritole?’ ‘Yes, well, since I had the oil going . . . ’
Venetians are religious about their Carnival. It’s a century-old recurrence that can’t be ignored, not just in the city but in the countryside, too. Kids dress up and parade, and everybody stuffs their faces with fried treats. I like the Carnival triplet of crostoli, favette and fritole (or frittelle), and I like that Grandma has taken on the chore of frying up a storm for the whole family, year in and year out. Of the three, fritole are her strongest — soft, perfumed with anise and citrus, and surprisingly un-greasy. I’m happy to be sharing her recipe here.