One hot night at a Naples pizzeria, a dish called Scugnizzi catches my attention. This antipasto is made up of strips of fried pizza dough, piled high and served with fresh tomatoes, basil and rocket. What I didn't learn that night was the strange link to this fried dough and the street children of historic Naples.
After my evening in Naples, eating fried pizza dough, my curiosity was piqued. I went researching. I discovered that there are two names for the same dish. One is called straccetti di pizza fritta or ‘little rags’, which indicates the fritters' rag-style shape. But specific to Naples, straccetti fritti is also called ‘Scugnizzi Napoletani’ - a name which arose in the late 1800s which refers to the street kids of Naples. Historically, these ‘street urchins’ didn’t live a charmed life: poverty, homelessness, abuse, petty crime and, sometimes, very serious crime. I think about the two names together: little rags and street kids. Does the dish honour these tough scrappy children or demean them? Perhaps both.
Stock photos of 'scugnizzi' from public domain images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The old postcards of the early 20th century reflect this duality. It seems the city of Naples can handle two opposing ideas. Probably even more. Contradictions weave together. The gritty streets and their delicate art. The shadows behind corners and the welcoming glow of the pizzerie. The hard faces on the shop keepers and the warm generosity of a passer-by. Isn’t it fun how ordering fried pizza one night can lead to so much more? Language itself is an untold story and food is one of the tastiest ways to devour it.
STRACCETTI DI PIZZA FRITTA
SERVES 6-8 | 1 HOUR + PROVING
The best way to eat these fritters is with a fresh salad and lemon juice to cut through the oiliness. If you’re feeling naughty try rolling them in sugar for a sweet snack.
1 teaspoon dried yeast
large pinch of sugar
500g (3 ¾ cups) plain flour
2 teaspoons salt
sunflower oil for frying (approximately ½ litre)
150g rocket leaves
150g cherry tomatoes
handful of basil leaves
1 lemon, cut into wedges
drizzle of olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
black cracked pepper
Combine ¼ cup of warm water, the yeast and sugar in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside for 5 minutes to activate.
Pour the flour and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the liquid yeast and approximately 325ml water, a little at a time, stirring as you go with a fork. Once combined, use your hands to bring the dough together. Add a dash more water if it’s too dry.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead well for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic, dusting with flour as you go. Place into a large, greased bowl and cover. Leave to rise in a draught-free place to double in size, approximately 3 hours.
Turn the risen dough onto a floured bench. Slice off a small piece of dough and roll into a rope, 10-15cm in length and about the width of your finger. Repeat with the remaining dough. Lay the ropes on a towel.
In a pot, heat the oil to approximately 150C. A thermometer can be handy. Or test the oil by dropping in a small piece of dough and if it sizzles immediately, it is ready.
Carefully drop several pieces of the dough ‘rags’ into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. Remove and drain well on absorbent paper. Repeat with the remaining dough. It will make a mountain of straccetti!
On a large serving dish, scatter the rocket, tomatoes and basil. Arrange the straccetti on top. You may have some leftovers to enjoy later. Squeeze over lemon juice but keep some wedges aside for serving. Drizzle over olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Excerpt taken from A Vegan Summer in Southern Italy