“Every month, we are here rolling dough to make crostoli,” says Lily Castronini. “We always want to help the club, and we make good money from them.” Lily has attended the Fogolar Furlan Veneto Club, a social club for Italian immigrants from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, in Sydney’s south-western suburb of Lansvale since 1969. Her husband was the club’s first president. In 2007 the Fogolar joined other Italian clubs to form Club Italia and welcomes Italians from all regions.
Lily and the members of the club’s Ladies’ Committee have been here since 7.30am. The first order of business is to make 30 kilograms of crostoli dough – a mix of flour, sugar, yeast, eggs, a splash of rum, a little brandy, some wine and grappa, lemon zest and juice.
As the dough rests, the ladies have their morning cappuccino and, after an hour or so, they regroup to form the dough into balls. “About the size of your fist,” instructs Lily. She then rolls each ball flat with a rolling pin, then passes the dough on to Renato Pagnucco, a retired baker, and one of the few husbands permitted to attend on account of his expertise. He carefully feeds the rolled dough through a pasta machine several times to thin it out.
Renato, originally from Casarsa in the west of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, arrived in Australia in 1960. A few years later, he met his wife Josephine, of Sicilian descent, and the pair established two successful bakeries, one in Emu Plains and another in Penrith, which were their family businesses for many years. “There were not a lot of Italians in Penrith in those days,” says Renato. “We baked mainly sausage rolls, scones and doughnuts; no crostoli,” he laughs.
Once Renato has achieved the required paper-thin consistency, he passes the sheets of dough to the ‘cutting station’, where a group of ladies wield ravioli cutters. Running them along the length of the dough, the cutters create long ribbons with pretty crinkled edges. “We make a small incision in the centre of each ribbon,” says Lidia Gentilini, president of the Ladies’ Committee. “It prevents them from puffing up in the oil.”
Then begins the frying. Avelina Peressini is stationed at the deep-fryer. Avelina arrived in Australia 50 years ago, from the town of Dignano, in the Province of Udine, in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Her friend and frying partner, Vigilia Cattalini, has been a member of the club for 30 years. Vigilia came to Australia in 1956 from the mountainous Trentino-Alto Adige region bordering Austria. “Avelina and I are always frying partners,” she says. As they wait for the ribbons to fry, the ladies speak to each other in Friulano, a dialect from the Friuli region. Avelina turns the ribbons, just once. Lidia carefully lifts the crostoli out of the oil with tongs, drains them on a tray of paper towel and, while they are still hot, sprinkles them with caster sugar.
“The crostoli recipe came from our friend, Lia Goldin, who grew up in Friuli,” says Lidia. “Her husband gave me her recipe after she died. Lia was president of the Ladies’ Committee for many years.”
The Ladies’ Committee has a long history of promoting Italian and Friulian culture in the Lansvale area – through fundraising initiatives such as the crostoli-making events; lunches on celebration days; competitions including ‘the best homegrown radicchio’; and by hosting school groups.
“On Monday, we have 150 local high school students visiting,” says Josephine Pagnucco. “We demonstrate pasta-making, cook lunch for them and encourage them to practise their Italian,” she says. After lunch, the ladies and the students play tombola (Italian bingo) or indovinello (a trivia game) together. “It is a big day,” says Josephine. Lidia, Vigilia and Avelina are still at the fryer. “At the end of the day, we all smell like crostoli,” Lidia proclaims. Vigilia nods in agreement. “I never taste them,” she says. “I buy them and give them away – people love crostoli.”
“As they wait for the ribbons to fry, the ladies speak to each other in Friulano, a dialect from the Friuli region.”
While in the US they’re referred to as angel wings because of their delicate shape, in Italy they’re known by several different names depending on the region in which they are made. The Tuscans call them cenci (rags), Genoese call them bugie (lies), Sicilians and Puglians call them chiacchiere (chats), in Lombardy they are lattughe (lettuce), while they are also known as frappe, sfrappole, guanti (gloves) and galani in other regions. It’s in the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions that they are known as crostoli.
Photography by Chris Chen.
As seen in Feast magazine, August 2014, Issue 34. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.