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What are pettole?
Photo: Florixc

What are pettole?

Pettole are small dough balls resembling doughnuts, which are fried in oil and dusted with any ingredient of the baker’s choice. The balls contain only a handful of ingredients and can be prepared to a sweet or savoury recipe. Although sold throughout the year, they are especially popular during Easter, Christmas and many other festive celebrations.

Pettole is a much-loved Puglian street food classic. Traditional pettole contains five basic ingredients; flour, yeast, salt, warm water, olive oil (for frying) plus any additional ingredients you’d like to add.

The savoury version can be served plain or with ingredients such as olives, cauliflower, sundried tomatoes, salt cod or chopped anchovies. The sweet version can be served plain with dusted sugar or dipped in vincotto, which is a sweet, concentrated Puglian grape juice. If vincotto is hard to come by, honey or jam are perfectly adequate substitutes.

The sweet variation of the snack can also be accompanied by caramel, raisins or melted chocolate. Whilst the traditions around pettole remain the same, every family will have their own variation on the snack.

Puglians will eat the snack as a post-meal dessert or a a snack with an afternoon coffee. In some parts of Puglia, they are dipped in a thick wine-based syrup during the Christmas period.

In Lecce, they are traditionally eaten on San Martino Day on the 11th of November; St Cecilia’s Day in Taranto on the 22nd of November; and around the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in Brindisi which celebrates the city’s St. Lawrence.

They are also traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve in Foggia, as well as over the Christmas period throughout the whole region.

For preparation, mix yeast with flour and warm water, then add salt. You should be left with a wet dough. Knead the dough for around 10 minutes until it has an elastic texture. Here’s the part where you add any additional ingredients, such as chopped olives. Then knead again, to ensure the ingredients(s) are spread evenly across the dough.

The dough then needs to rise, so cover with cling film or a wet towel. Store in a warm place at room temperature for between 2-24 hours. Once you remove the plastic the mixture should have doubled in size.

When ready, roll into small evenly-sized balls and heat in a frying pan in about half an inch’s worth of olive oil. For safety, used a spoon to gently lower the balls in. Once fried evenly on all sides, remove the balls and drain on kitchen roll. Then dust with sugar or prepare any dip of choice.

Pettole can keep for a couple of days, but is always best enjoyed immediately. This way is also more traditional. Any standard flour will do but some Puglians prefer the more fragrant results produced by using durum wheat semolina flour.

The balls are leavened, which produce a very light and airy texture. Once they hit the hot oil, they dramatically swell and form a golden crispy texture which makes them very moreish.