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It's almost Thanksgiving.  Xmas is approaching.  Time for a fun post about something simple, delicious and increasingly available.

I've noticed recently a "new" baked delight popping up in more than a few local outlets.  Called "Zeppole" or "Zeppoli" in Italy depending on whether northern or southern versions, the much-loved Italian donut deserves a bit of spotlight here on DR.com. I've had them recently at Palena Coffee Shop (where, despite the Italian/Meditrerranean emphasis of the menu, they label them "donut holes," I guess to be more "coffee shop" like).  And, this week they were one of two dessert options at pricey Del Campo.  I saw them at one other place recently but can't recall where. I know that Casa Luca also sells them but I haven't tried those yet.

Zeppole are basically what we Americans know as "munchkins" or "donut holes" but as, with so many things that have been "imported," what Dunkin Donuts did to the zeppole surely must be seen as criminal.  Real zeppole are light, small, slightly crispy and may be filled with all manner of ingredients, ranging from ricotta to fruit and sweets, depending on the region of Italy and the occasion. Personally, my favorite zeppole are simple, without any filling, and served with excellent coffee. I've had them in Italy, where they often come in paper cones and are sold on the street during festivals and other times.  They're also a popular gift.

Locally, I'm not sure if my recent spottings are indicative of a ful-blown trend focused on the specialized donut but thought it might be fun to start a topic since, well, when made well, they are good and less overwhelming than full-sized donuts, cro-nuts (egads!), beignets or what have you.

But, let's get down to business.  First, there's a real history to Zeppole and they have the obligatory Wiki page.  The Festival of St Joseph (March 19th), celebrated nationwide in Italy, and Feast of Saint Gennaro (Sept 19) are focal points for zeppole, where they are sold, given and consumed as a central part of the celebrations. There's even a more-or-less-agreed-upon founder:

Zeppole History

In The Catholic Cook Book, William I. Kaufman explained that the ritual of honoring Christ's foster father traces back to the fifteenth century, when Pope Gregory XV instituted a holy day of obligation and Rome dedicated an entire feast to Saint Joseph. The two celebrations that now honor the saint are the main feast on March 19 and the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker on May 1, Kaufman said. The earlier feast became associated with zeppole.

The Sorrento Info website credits the convent Santa Patrizia in Naples with creating zeppole in the sixteenth century. However, Don Pasquale Pintauro, already renowned for popularizing sfogliatelle, later garnered attention for his advancement of the pastry.

Giada has a recipe and, though she is a beautiful mega-star whose culinary chops are often questioned, the woman does know a bit about Italian cooking, right?  Surprisingly, there may be a Big Market Opportunity ("BMO") for a well-researched book, simply titled "Zeppole!"  The exclamation mark on that would be key along with the right photo (which can be conveniently chosen from the two I've attached below). Go ahead, type the word into Amazon's search window and you'll see. Nothing. Just a bunch of big Italian or baking themed cookbooks with zeppoles tragically relegated to page 242 with nary a word beyond a recipe.  Surely the history and cultural aspects of the small Italian donut could support its own tome.  An author would just need to do the requisite primary research traveling from Sicily and Sardinia to northern Italy, preferably in summer and with real focus on Naples and Rome, to do the right kinds of interviews and taste testing. If such a would-be author reads this and wants an assistant, please PM me.

Zeppole seem like a very fun and easily made component for end-of-year holiday parties and dinners.  And, because they are supposed to be fried in olive oil, they're surely even healthier than Big Donuts (capitalized like Big Oil for effect).

Personally, I really like zeppole and it never occurred to me as a child that the "munchkins" on offer at northeast Dunkin' Donuts had any distant relation to something that was, well, really good and almost magical when in the right cultural context rather than scooped up twelve for two bucks along the Mass Pike.

Though like many I'm growing a bit tired of the various incessant hot and quick-buck food trends (cupcakes being just the best example), I'd welcome a first Zeppole shop in greater DC if they were made true to the original recipe and paired with a high-quality coffee roaster. Then again, this was pithily attempted in New York's East Village and that didnt go well. Guess it really is all about location.  14UP anyone?

So, in closing, go sample some good Zeppole. Bake Zeppole!  Give Zeppole!  And a very Happy Thanksgiving to all.  :)

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Awesomely detailed write-up, thank you!  FYI at Casa Luca and Fiola they're called "bomboloni"and are made with ricotta; they're available only at breakfast at the former, iirc.  They are unbelievably light.  At Fiola, they are served with something else on the side; last time the something else was espresso gelato, a few months before that it was chocolate sorbet.

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Graffiato also has zeppole.

The first time I had zeppoles was at the annual Feast of St. Gennaro in New York.  I loved them, but they were dense and chewy rather than light and fluffy. :)  I think the vendors were deep frying gobs of pizza dough.  They put the zeppole in a paper bag with lots of powdered sugar.

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Graffiato also has zeppole.

The first time I had zeppoles was at the annual Feast of St. Gennaro in New York.  I loved them, but they were dense and chewy rather than light and fluffy. :)  I think the vendors were deep frying gobs of pizza dough.  They put the zeppole in a paper bag with lots of powdered sugar.

I used to look forward to the St. Gennaro feast every year because it meant zeppoles. Seemed like everyone carrying one of those paper bags was smiling. When I moved to HI and was introduced to the similar malasadas, I figured missing the feast wouldn't be so bad. Thanks for bringing back good memories!

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