“Vuoi una bugia? (Do you want a lie?)” my flatmate asked me one February evening, indicating a platter with some flat, sugar-coated fritters on them.
“A lie?” I replied puzzledly. I had arrived in Turin recently with what I thought was a reasonably good level of Italian. I couldn’t, however, see the connection between the serrated-edged pastries on the kitchen table and falsehoods.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand why you’re calling those things bugie,” I stated matter of factly.
An after dinner snack and a few laughs at Piedmont’s (and Liguria’s) name for the ubiquitous fried pastries made during the Carnival period ensued. Later on, I would learn that fibs had nothing to do with the origin of their name either. That would appear to derive from the Italianisation of the Piedmontese busie and Ligurian böxie. The pastries also went by other amusing epithets elsewhere in Italy. Care for some lattughe (‘lettuces’), cenci (‘rags’) or chiacchiere (‘gossips’) anyone?
The word carnevale derives from the Latin carne levum, meaning ‘flesh farewell’. Like many Christian festivities, Carnival appears to have pagan roots. It is as much an agricultural festival as it is a religious one. Traditionally, the gargantuan feasting characterising the celebrations represented a precious last opportunity to exhaust the larder and meat supply before the food shortage imposed by the passage from winter to spring. Lent, the forty day period of piety and abstinence which follows the excesses and revelry of Carnival, coincides with what would have been a precarious time for those who depended on the land for their survival.
Bugie – or whatever you prefer to call those flaky, deep-fried sheets of sweet dough – are symbolic of this farewell to all that is grasso or ‘fat’. Using up supplies of pork – the meat of the season – and pork-derived products was an integral part of the festivities, so, in the past, they were fried in strutto or lard. Until the postwar economic boom (and subsequent anti-fat health scares!), lard was the cooking fat used by most Italians. Now people generally fry their bugie in vegetable oil. And, with the abundance of food now available year round, not to mention more relaxed attitudes to observing Lenten diet restrictions, their symbolism as a goodbye to fleshy indulgence is less obvious. Regardless, I still look forward to the time of year that bugie begin appearing in the vetrine of local pasticcerie. In fact, I’ve become so fond of these flaky, melt-in-your-mouth fritters that I’ve taken to making them myself at home. Here is a recipe, based on Pellegrino Artusi’s for making bugie, or – as he called them in the dialect of his adopted region of Tuscany – ‘rags’.
Ingredients (makes 12-15 bugie)
- 240 g flour, plus extra for dusting
- 20 g caster sugar
- 20 g butter, melted
- 2 eggs
- 1 shot grappa[i]
- a pinch of salt
- water, room temperature
- vegetable oil (or lard!), for deep-frying
- icing sugar, for dusting
- Sift flour, caster sugar and salt together in a large bowl.
- In a small bowl lightly beat eggs, melted butter and grappa together. Add wet ingredients to large bowl and mix together.
- Knead mixture on a lightly-dusted work surface until dough is smooth and elastic. If mixture feels a little bit dry add a bit of water at room temperature.
- Wrap dough in cling film and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes in refrigerator or another cool place.
- Divide dough into two balls.
- Take one ball and roll dough out with a rolling pin until it is 1-2mm thick. Repeat procedure with second ball.
- Cut flattened dough into rectangles [ii] measuring about 4 x 8 cm with a serrated pastry wheel, then make two parallel incisions about 2 cm long in the middle of them.
- Heat vegetable oil to 170 degrees in deep frying pan. Fry about three bugie at a time.
- Remove bugie and place on tray lined with paper towels to drain excess oil.
- Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle icing sugar liberally on top of bugie.
The post Lettuces, Rags and Lies for Carnival was inspired by this month’s #BlogPiemonte topic of Carnival. Don’t forget to check out what my fellow bloggers had to say about this festivity:
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[i] If you don’t have grappa, any other distilled liqueur works well.
[ii] I also like cutting them into rhombuses! When I make them this way, I make a single incision in the middle instead.