At the moment, Carnival is in the air! Parco Sempione has been temporarily transformed into an amusement park, and everyone is losing their mind for chiacchiere. Also known as frappe in Le Marche, cenci in Tuscany, sfrappole in Emilia-Romagna, and bugie in Piedmont, chiacchiere are crispy, powder-sugar-dusted Mardi Gras sweets that start appearing on local pastry shop shelves while supermarkets sell mass-produced plastic-packaged versions.
Now, don’t get me wrong! I enjoy chiacchiere and I will gladly snap a bite or two off these fried dough sheets anytime they are at my disposal. But come Carnival, I don’t lose my mind for them. What I do lose my mind for, however, are the tortelli di Milano. No, I’m not talking about savory stuffed pasta…I’m talking about the pillowy sugar-crystal-coated Carnival treats (also known as castagnole in other parts of the peninsula).
As an American, the only items to which I can compare them for a visual point of reference are (dare I write this?!) Munchkins, or donut holes. However, the comparison stops there as–with all due respect to Dunkin’ Donuts–the tortelli di Milano put the franchise’s batter to shame. Flour, butter, water, salt, and eggs comprise the mix, which doesn’t absorb a lot of oil when frying so the end result is a light and airy, fluffy and buttery-eggy dolce (that kind of reminds me of a pancake!) with a crispy sugar-coated exterior that, at first bite, transports me to heaven!
But that’s not all! Just as breakfast brioche can be prepared vuoto (plain) or with fillings, tortelli di Milano can be vuoto or stuffed with dreamy creamy concoctions. For instance, Pasticceria Marchesi, which holds a special place in my heart and whose tortelli are pictured above, has Chantilly, custard, and Zabaione fillings as well as tortelli with raisins and pine nuts.
And speaking of Carnival, Milan follows the Ambrosian calendar which means that Lent doesn’t start here until the Sunday after Ash Wednesday. So while everyone is having one last hurrah on Fat Tuesday, the Milanesi celebrate Fat Saturday instead. This means not only four more days of tortelli on pastry store shelves, but four fewer days of fasting for Lent abiders.