Frittele di Mele
by gina depalma
If you mention autumn to me, the first thought that leaps into my head is apples. There is something about biting into a crisp, juicy apple on a crisp, windy day that is undeniably satisfying. Apples are the fruit that embodies Americana: think of Mom’s apple pie, warm apple crisp, and the good-ole’ apple for the teacher. And who can forget that bit of wisdom from Benjamin Franklin – an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Research has proven that theory to surprisingly factual, and whether it be for the many healthy benefits of apples or for their crunchy-sweet satisfaction, the American consumer eats an average of 86 apples per year. Not quite an apple a day, but enough to put them at the top of the list of favorite fruits. I feel that the kind of apple one favors is a statement of individuality; I have a fondness for juicy, sweet bite of a Red Delicious or Gala, as well as the tang of Gingergolds. The Empire, a hybrid apple developed in my own Empire State of New York, is my favorite baking apple, along with the ubiquitous and brightly green Granny Smith. I guess when it comes down to it, I haven’t met an apple I didn’t like.
Apples may well be our adopted national fruit, but they are far from a solely American crop. In Italy, the northern regions are apple country, where warm, sunny days and cool nights make for particularly favorable growing conditions. In the northernmost reaches of Trentino, the apple,or mela in Italian, has thrived for a staggering nine centuries. The Val di Non is the name of the province nestled at the top of Trentino, just below Bolzano. The steeply terraced, heavily forested hills give way to a lush green valley below, producing what locals claims are the finest apples of Italy. The names of the varieties roll off the tongue like an Italian poem: Rosa Gentile, Mantovano, Napoleone, Rosso Nobile, Bianco d’Inverno, to name just a few.
Val di Non apples first gained official recognition for their quality in 1873, when they won an international contest held in Vienna. Today there are 16 consortiums, comprised of around 5200 producers. The smaller consortiums are grouped together to form the larger entity, the Consorzio Tutela Mela Val di Non, located in the Val di Non town of Cles. The apples are marketed under the single name of “Melinda.” – not quite as lyrical, but cute nonetheless (like that little blonde girl in your third-grade class).
Apples are deeply interwoven into the history of the valley; the towns of Malè and Malosco are said to derive from the Latin maletum, meaning, “the place of the apples.” For nearly 200 years, the apple crop has been a vital part of the region’s economy; the accolades and international prizes have been a source of regional pride for the farmers of Val di Non, who tend to their orchards with the care of a nervous father. The apples thrive in the mineral-rich soil of the dolomite rock formations that dominate the terrain and the temperate Alpine air. The Melinda Apples of Val di Non were the first Italian apple variety to receive the coveted D.O.P. classification, designating that they are native to the specific geographical place, and bearing a high standard of excellence.
This month, in honor of the lovely apple named Melinda, why not try this recipe for delicious apple fritters, or frittele di mele, a favorite dessert of Trentino-Alto Adige the Veneto, and Friuli Venezia-Guilia, where apples abound. A few notes about fritters: Don’t be tempted to gussy up the batter; let the flavor of the apples shine through. Also, remember that fritters are mean to be fun snack foods, or a dessert to be served at once. They best enjoyed straight out of the fryer.
Place the oil in a 5-quart, heavy-bottomed stock pot or dutch oven, clipping a candy or deep fry thermometer to the side of the pot. Begin heating the oil over low heat while you prepare the fritter ingredients.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg and milk together with the vanilla extract. In another bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Using a fork or small whisk, stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients to form a batter. Let the batter sit for a few moments while you prepare the apples.
Peel and core the apples, cutting them in half, and then cutting the halves into three or four slices. Sprinkle the apple slices with a few drops of the lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.
Check the oil – when it has heated to about 285F degrees Fahrenheit, you are ready to fry. Dip the slices into the batter, heavily coating them, and quickly place them into the oil, one at a time. Fry the fritters on both sides until they are nicely golden brown, then remove them and place on paper towels to drain briefly. Sprinkle the fritters generously with confectioner’s sugar and serve warm.