The last twelve months have been a wild ride for restaurants around the world. Don Angie wife-and-husband owners Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli also had a baby, earned a MICHELIN star, and published a cookbook, Italian-American. From this book comes a family recipe good for holidays or casual dinner parties: honey zeppole. Here's how to make them.
How does food move you?
We both come from Italian-American families and grew up with food being the focal point of every family gathering. Italian-American food traditions are the main thing we bonded over when we first met! For us, food is love, and there is no better way to show how much you care about someone than to cook for them. Food— especially Italian-American food— is our passion in life, and we especially love Italian food traditions that are specific to the holiday season, like [honey zeppole].
What does this dish mean to you?
Angie’s family has always enjoyed honey zeppole on Christmas Eve following the Feast of the Seven Fishes, which her grandmother would cook. A big group of around 45 people would gather around a long table in her grandparents’ basement to enjoy the meal together. The family always stuffed themselves with the endless seafood dishes on the Christmas Eve table, but everybody always still had room for the honey zeppole.
What inspired this dish?
These are inspired by the honey zeppole Angie’s Neapolitan grandmother made, a tradition she and her family brought from Italy. Angie’s grandma’s recipe used a more savory, yeasted bread dough, and included raisins as well. Our recipe is a bit more rich, and we’ve swapped out raisins for pistachios.
Walk us through how this recipe comes to life.
The recipe is quite simple— the ingredients are mixed together (and can be done a couple days in advance to save time). Then the zeppole are fried and tossed in a honey syrup, and topped with crushed pistachios.
We use robiolina here— a soft, spreadable cow’s milk cheese from Italy that's similar to American cream cheese. If you can’t find robiolina, you can substitute whipped cream cheese. We use cinnamon to add a bit of warmth and spice to the honey syrup that we soak the zeppole in, and top the zeppole with pistachios to add texture and nutty flavor.
Tell us what to look for when picking out the perfect pistachios.
If you want to use extra special pistachios here, seek out the Sicilian ones, which are bright green in color and superior in texture and flavor.
While honey-soaked zeppole are a Rito family tradition around the holidays, using fried bread dough from the family bakery, the Tacinelli family makes honey struffoli, which are tiny little balls of fried dough served with honey and sprinkles. This is a marriage of the two, using robiolina or cream cheese, which adds moisture to the dough without weighing it down, and a welcome touch of savoriness to balance the honey. The pistachios are a nod to Italy’s Greek neighbors, whose influences are seen in Sicilian cuisine. The syrup and batter can be made in advance, though these zeppole, like most doughnuts, are at their best when fried to order.
Italian American by Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli. Reprinted with permission from Italian American by Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli. Copyright © 2021. Photographs by Christopher Testani. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Find the book at an indie bookstore near you.
Honey ZeppoleServes 4-6
- 16 oz robiolina cheese or whipped cream cheese
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla bean paste
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup sugar 4 large eggs
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup honey
- 2 cinnamon sticks or
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Neutral oil, such as vegetable, for deep- frying (about 5 cups)
- ½ cup chopped pistachios (optional)
Make the batter. In a stand mixer with the paddle, mix the robiolina, vanilla paste, salt, sugar, and eggs on medium-high speed until homogeneous, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the flour and baking powder. Mix thoroughly to ensure that all ingredients are evenly incorporated.
Make the honey syrup. In a small pot, bring the honey, cinnamon, and salt to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons water. Set aside to cool slightly. Remove the cinnamon sticks before using.
- Pour 3 to 4 inches oil into a large heavy- bottomed pot and heat to 340°F.
- With a small spring-release ice cream scoop, carefully scoop zeppole batter into the hot oil. If you don’t have an ice cream scoop, use two large spoons, and gently roll the batter between them to form a ball before dropping them into the oil.
- Fry only as many zeppole as will float freely in the oil at a time, flipping to ensure they cook evenly, until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes (you will likely cook 4 to 5 batches, depending on the size of your pot).
- Move zeppole from the oil with a slotted spoon and put in large bowl.
- Toss the zeppole with about one-quarter of the honey syrup and set aside on a serving platter.
- Repeat the frying and tossing with a proportionate amount of honey syrup until all the batter and honey syrup are used.
- If desired, sprinkle with pistachios.
- Serve immediately. Zeppole are best fried and eaten day-of. Uncooked batter keeps, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days.
Hero image: Scott Tacinelli and Angie Rito. Photo courtesy of Don Angie