Pizzarelle: Rome’s Matzo Fritter

A Passover-Friendly Dessert Sure to Delight the Taste Buds

Poverty Cuisine: Pizzarelle, fritters with honey or syrup, are a traditional Passover dessert in Rome that evolved from the oil-heavy cuisine impoverished Italian Jews consumed in the 16th through 19th centuries.
Leah Koenig
Poverty Cuisine: Pizzarelle, fritters with honey or syrup, are a traditional Passover dessert in Rome that evolved from the oil-heavy cuisine impoverished Italian Jews consumed in the 16th through 19th centuries.

By Leah Koenig

Published April 04, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Two years ago, I fell head over heels for a matzo fritter. My husband and I were celebrating our first anniversary in Rome, and through a series of lucky coincidences we landed an invitation to an event hosted by Giovanni Terracina, owner of Le Bon Ton Catering. An upscale kosher catering company in Rome, Le Bon Ton throws an annual fete to celebrate the release of Italy’s only kosher-certified novello, which is a young, barely fermented wine. We could not believe our good fortune: This event was clearly the culinary highlight of Rome’s Jewish community, and we had front-row tickets.

By the time we arrived, the room was already crowded with 200 sophisticated, impeccably dressed Roman Jews ready to throw elbows to get to the front of the food and drink tables. (Some things never change, even when you switch continents.) My husband and I pinched ourselves in bewildered delight as we joined the throngs in toasting glasses of novello and sampling such Italian-Jewish delicacies as fritto misto, A deep-fried vegetable cake that the hardworking staff could hardly replenish quickly enough, and hearty pasta e fagioli, pasta and bean stew. Then dessert came out — glasses of sweetened mint tea curiously served with boiled peanuts (it’s a traditional drink from Tripoli, we learned, served in honor of the several thousand Libyan Jews who moved to Rome in the 1970s), and platters of golden-brown fritters, drenched in honey and studded with raisins and pine nuts.

“Those are pizzarelle,” Terracina explained. “They are made with matzo meal and are a traditional Passover dessert here in Rome.”

But I was too busy swooning over the dessert before me to pay him proper attention. I have always had a particular soft spot for fried sweets. Given the choice between a piece of chocolate cake or a doughnut, my allegiances nearly always fall with the fryer. This particular fritter was lightly crispy outside, soft and chewy inside, and brightened with flecks of lemon zest. Dangerously good, in other words — enough so that, after I finished off my fifth or sixth fritter at Terracina’s event, my husband kindly suggested that maybe sticking a few in my purse for later was not the wisest idea.

Pizzarelle are loosely related to the Eastern European fried matzo meal pancake, chremslach — though chremslach are also eaten for breakfast, whereas pizzarelle fall more solidly into the dessert category. They also fall into a larger canon of fried foods traditionally enjoyed by Roman Jews. From the 16th through 19th centuries, Rome’s Jewish community lived an impoverished existence in a walled-in, segregated ghetto by the flood-prone Tiber River. At the time, frying foods in olive oil was considered one of the more economical methods of cooking. Over time, an oil-heavy cucina povera, poverty cuisine, was developed in the ghetto, transforming humble ingredients into delicacies like the famous carciofi alla Giudia, “Jewish style” fried artichokes; baccalà fritto, fried cod, and, of course, pizzarelle.

Traditionally, pizzarelle are served doused with either sugar syrup (pizzarelle con giulebbe) or, as we ate them, with honey. Italian Jews who follow Sephardic customs sometimes make them out of rice flour (pizzarelle di riso) instead of matzo meal. Other cooks stir leftover haroset from the Seder into the batter — a thrifty and tasty bit of food recycling. In the “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food” (Wiley, 2010), Gil Marks writes that modern variations sometimes include chopped chocolate, swap the traditional pine nuts for almonds, or are served with whipped cream or powdered sugar, like a funnel cake.

Passover, as virtually any holiday-observant Jew will attest, is rarely celebrated for its breathtaking desserts. My mom’s extended family used to jokingly call the dried-out cakes, tinned macaroons and sugar-crusted jelly candies that pass for sweets on Passover “Pesa-dreck.” There are a few Passover-friendly desserts that help shepherd a desperate sweet tooth through the week — like airy meringues, which were my favorite as a kid, and chocolate-and-caramel covered matzo, originally developed by “A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking” (Broadway, 1998) author Marcy Goldman, and lovingly known among food bloggers as “matzo crack” for its own addictive qualities. Still, even among these standouts, the pizzarelle we ate at Terracina’s event felt special, a delicious gift from Italy ready to make its second home in my Brooklyn kitchen.

Leah Koenig writes a monthly column for the Forward on food and culinary trends. Contact her at ingredients@forward.com

Pizzarelle

Adapted from a recipe on Ronnie Fein’s website, Culinate, this recipe fries the *pizzarelle in vegetable oil, which today is the more economical choice. You can substitute olive oil if you prefer.*

3 eggs, separated

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

3/4 cup matzo meal

1/3 cup raisins

1/3 cup pine nuts

Vegetable oil for frying

Honey for serving

Combine egg yolks, salt and olive oil in a medium bowl; set aside.

In a standing mixer, beat egg whites and sugar until shiny with stiff peaks. Remove bowl from mixer. Using a rubber spatula, fold in egg yolk mixture, followed by lemon zest and matzo meal. Gently fold in raisins and pine nuts; let mixture stand for 15 minutes.

In a large, heavy pot or skillet, heat about 2 inches of vegetable oil over medium heat. While oil is heating, use wet hands to roll a walnut-sized ball of dough into a round; make rounds with remaining dough.

Fry rounds in batches (do not overcrowd pot/skillet), 1–2 minutes on all sides until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve warm or at room temperature, drizzled liberally with honey if desired.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.