Ribbons (Another Delicious Version of What Italians Can Do With Fried Dough)
Right now, off the top of my head, I could name you at least a dozen names for variations on fried dough that would knock your culinary socks off. And it seems that every time I speak about one of these delicacies, I learn of another recipe for fried dough that was a tradition in another family. Talk about imagination! This recipe for ribbons, that I will share with you today was a Christmas tradition in my mother’s family, but I believe the recipe she used all these years came from her “Cook, Bake, Pray” friend Anne, who you met in the “Christmas Cookies” post. Many years ago I found the remains of this recipe in my mom’s folder with Anne’s name on it. It was truly illegible, and I had to call my friend for the recipe, which is what we have here. I think the original one disintegrated, and my mom’s mom made it from memory.
So let’s talk a bit about “Big Nonni.” As I mentioned yesterday, she was only big by comparison to Little Nonni’s size. As kids, we would delineate which grandmother was coming over to visit by size. You could also say that the adjective “big” was used to describe the size of her heart. She did not spend all her time in the kitchen cooking the way that Little Nonni did, as she lived a life of privilege here in America. She came to the USA in 1910 with her husband, after having 5 miscarriages in Italy. He was to become very wealthy in the banking industry in New York City, and she would have 7 children, 3 homes and a staff of 40. There was no pounding dough in a kitchen for this woman. However, my grandfather would die suddenly of appendicitis at the early age of 45 just before the Depression, and due to many circumstances of the times, my grandmother’s wealth faded. Her children all had to leave their private schools and go to work to support the family. They were not unlike many other families at this time who struggled financially. The blessing in disguise here is that many of the family recipes came out of hiding, and my mother and her 3 sisters would learn how to prepare these dishes with their mother, and then pass them down to the next generation. My memories of her in the kitchen were watching this tall (only by comparison), well dressed, well coiffed woman standing over the stove as if she were getting ready for a photo shoot for a magazine. She always was fully made up with red lipstick and her long, slender hands were always perfectly manicured in a beautiful red polish. As she got older, she would come to our house to visit and cook with my mom, especially around any of the holidays, but till the day she died, she cooked in this fine regalia. Perhaps it made the food taste better.
So back to Ribbons. I can still see my grandmother and mom working together, over the pastry board, kneading and twisting these delicate pieces of dough into the shape of ribbons. Eventually my mom took over the kneading as my grandmother became more frail, and my grandmother would sit for hours, forming the dough into ribbons with her beautiful, perfectly manicured, even till the end, hands. I still want to reach out and hold her hand, stroking her bright red nails one by one, as I often did. As children, my sister and I would sit at the kitchen table with them, and would do our best trying to form the perfect ribbon. This is not an easy task for a child, but over the years, you develop the knack and it gets easier. So there we were, back in the 50s and 60s, three generations bonding in the kitchen. Here we are in a different century, but my mom, my sister and our daughters form this three generational bond at Christmas time, making our Ribbons. Usually a cousin or two will stop by and stories start rolling. Each year we seem to learn something new about a relative or old family friend. The family albums come out of the closet and we end our day with a glass of wine and shared memories. Two added pluses……we now have a fourth generation helping (my grandson, who at 6 years old loves to put the dough through the pasta machine, making it as thin as can be)…..and I have my grandmother’s hands!!!
Let me say just say a few things regarding the process of making Ribbons. First of all, this dough can also be made in the Cuisinart or KitchenAid with dough attachments, but please don’t miss the picture here of my mom working the flour and eggs with her beautiful 92 year old hands. Also, the shape of the ribbons do not have to be perfect and/or all the same. As a matter of fact, mine are all sizes and shapes…….perhaps due to my impatience or to the fact that there are many hands involved. Honestly, you could just throw strips of this dough into a fry pan, put powdered sugar and/or honey on it, and it would be delicious. I hope you enjoy this recipe. Please let me know any fried dough recipes that your family enjoys. I am always looking for more ways to enjoy this basic Italian food group.
3/4 cups sugar
2 Tbsp. melted Crisco
half cup whiskey
5 to 6 cups flour (start with 5… you can add as you go along if needed)
1 tsp. salt
Make a well with the dry ingredients on a pastry board. Put the eggs, crisco and whiskey in the middle. OR throw all the ingredients into the Cuisinart.
The dough should be slightly moist. Form into a ball and cover with a bowl (not sure why) for 30 minutes. While the dough is resting, I get the pasta machine ready and lightly flour the pastry board so the dough does not stick.
Once the dough is ready, cut a little piece (maybe the size of a fist) and flatten. Put through the pasta machine several times until it is very thin. I keep raising the setting on the machine each time I pass the dough through until it goes through level #4 on my machine. This is the thinness I desire. Keep flouring if the dough is too sticky. Lay out the strips on the floured board until ready to cut. I use a pastry cutter to get the ridged edges. In a perfect ribbon world, each strip would be about 5 to 6 inches long and 2 inches wide, with a slit in the middle, but this is never the case with me. It doesn’t hurt to shoot for this ideal though. After all the dough is formed into these ribbon shapes, heat vegetable oil in one or two deep, large fry pans. Place them gently into the hot oil. Turn them once or twice. When they are a golden (not too dark) brown, remove and drain on paper towels. Once they are cooled, stack them up and shake confectioners sugar over them. Cover them until serving. You can eat them just like this, and they are delicious, but we always serve honey on the side so everyone can drizzle their desired amount of honey.
I make ribbons every year for Christmas. Also on special occasions ,like a graduation or wedding. My grandaughter has been helping me.
I’m hoping she’ll continue the tradition, as I have from my nanna.