Christmas Eve, Revisited

Ahhh, doesn’t that spread look beautiful?

“Huh-Christmas eve?!” you protest, “But it’s the middle of January for cryin’ out loud!” OK, OK, I know…but you try typing with one hand, a baby on your breast, and a jealous 6-year-old commanding your attention when the baby is not! And anyway, couldn’t we use a bit of Christmas to perk up the post-holiday doldrums? As John has mentioned, my family does the Christmas Eve dinner with the “7 fishes” (usually more), always has.

The real centerpiece, what the Altamuro/Fusco contingent has looked forward to every year, was not the fish (they ran a fish store, and were eating fish 24/7 for the love of God!), but the fritle. No, not a fritter. A fritle (“FREE-TUL” :trill your ‘r’). Don’t ask me if that’s the correct spelling, your guess is as good as mine; it originated with my illiterate great-grandparents somewhere in Molfetta, Italy (a once-tiny town near Bari, in Apulglia). Despite having been carried over here and “Italian-Americanized”, the tradition of a Molfettese stuffed-and-fried dough pocket (call it a “Hot Pocket” and I will hurt you, as John found out once, and ONLY ONCE) lives on here in the wilds of Southern New Jersey.

John and I took a few pictures in between rolling dough and and tending to our new bundle of joy, so we have a belated photojournal of the Christmas Eve elves working away in the “summer kitchen” (i.e. the souped-up former garage) at my mother’s house. My mom is the one in the fancy apron and John’s sister (an honorary “Mouffie” for the night) is the one on the left:

Back when my grandmother made them and placed them on a clean sheet on the bed to rest before frying in her Hoboken apartment, she called them “Baby Jesus pillows” (you know: for his head, in the manger). Here are some of the “raw” ones, shown here on my Mom’s dryer:

So, what are they stuffed with? The “traditional” ones contain either a mixture of egg and mozzarella cheese or onions sauteed with bit of tomato paste until they caramelize; some of the onion have whole anchovies added before they are sealed (only my Dad, nephew, and John’s sister likes them-oof!). Then there are the fairly new “pizza style” my grandma invented for her finicky grand kids: a little red “gravy” is spooned on before adding some mozzarella cheese). After rolling out the dough, stuffing, sealing, and “labeling” each with a colored toothpick to track their contents, we fry those suckers to golden, brown and delicious! Here are the final results:

Remember the pepperoni bread recipe I posted before Thanksgiving? Well, here are a few photos of my sister preparing it as one of our “side-dishes” that night:

Other items served that night were spaghetti with garlic and olive oil; lots of shrimp, either fried (beer batter-, Italian breadcrumb- , or “Cajun”-style) or boiled “cocktail” style; salmon baked with butter; fillet pan-crusted with pistachios, fried calamari, clams simmered in beer and garlic…the list goes on…

Sigh…well, if you need a little Christmas and you want to give it a whirl, here is a simplified recipe for fritles; they may not be the same, since no one is right there, showing you how to make them (with love, of course!), but they should come out pretty darn good and chase away a few winter blues. Warning: I don’t know how to make these in small batches, so judge for yourself how many packages of dough and how much filling you’ll really need to make. Of course, if you make too much filling, they make great leftovers (egg and cheese makes a great omelet, onions are a nice condiment on grilled meats, etc.):


4 packages (at least) of frozen pizza dough, defrosted (House of Pasta is a favorite)
Flour for dusting
For the onion filling:
4 onions, sliced thin
(about) 1 tbsp. tomato paste
(about) 1 tbsp. Parmesan cheese
1 tin oil-packed anchovies (STRICTLY OPTIONAL!)
For the egg and cheese filling:
1 lb. mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2″ cubes (use “dry”, not fresh-it will be too runny)
4 eggs, scrambled
For the “pizza” filling:
A jar of “gravy” (that’s “tomato sauce” to some, I hope you’re using your own homemade kind, but use a store-bought brand if you must)
1 lb. mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2″ cubes
colored toothpicks (if you’re making more than 1 kind, so you know what’s inside them when you’re done!)

Pinch off a piece of dough, bigger than a golf ball, smaller than a tennis ball. Roll out into a circle, about 4″ wide. Place no more than 2 tbsp. of the filling of your choice in the center (if using anchovies, lay 2-3 on top of the onion filling). Fold circle in half, to close up and make a pocket. Push any air out from the middle to the edges gently with your fingers; fold the very edges of the pocket up, then press with the tines of a fork to seal (make sure you seal it all around, no holes!). Deep fry until GBD: Golden, Brown, and Delicious…cool slightly and enjoy. Yield:a whole truckload to share with family and friends.


4 thoughts on “Christmas Eve, Revisited

  1. Boy did John have a feast! I made those ‘frit…things before and did not know what they were or where they came from, so thanks…hope you and the family are well in this snow!

  2. Hi Lisa, I stumbled across your blog whilst searching for some Molfetteses sweet biscuit recipes as my mother in law has been dead now for over 20 years and I hadn't learned the sweets, just the spaghetti sauce and fritellas or fritles as you call them. Because of the warmer weather in Australia, I make them as an Easter treat rather than Christmas and stuff them with a mixture of drained and mashed "tuna in oil", finely diced onion, tomato puree, parsley and pepper to taste. My family's favourite.

  3. I also have stumbled across your blog and found your recipe for 'fritles'. They are called panzerotti in Italy. My mother was from Molfetta, like your great-grandparents. I have many cousins still living out there and whenever we visit I always ask for these to be cooked. My favourites are the onion and tomato. Thanks for the recipe.

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