Recommended wine: Zanzarato I.G.T.
Heap the flour up on the work surface and create a “well” in the centre; put all the other ingredients into it and, using a fork, mix everything together slowly. When the dough begins to take form, continue with your hands using as much flour as necessary to make a firm but soft dough. Knead well, shaping it into a smooth ball. Cut it in half with a sharp knife and then use a “matterello” (= rolling pin) to roll out one half until very thin. Cut the “sheet” you obtain into strips 4-5 cm wide, then cut them into diamond shapes. Do the same with the other half of the dough. Heat a large frying pan three quarters full of olive oil and lard. When it’s very hot, drop the cenci in; they will swell and come to the surface. As soon as they are golden, turn them over and cook the other side. Take care not to let them scorch – turn the heat down from time to time –because they cook (and burn) very quickly. When they are biscuit-coloured, remove them from the oil and put them on a dish lined with kitchen paper. Then arrange them in wide shallow bowls so that they don’t break (you’ll need more than one). Each layer of cenci, still hot, should have a generous sprinkling of the two mixed sugars (1) (you can use a food mixer to grind them together). There is very little sugar in the dough; in the boiling oil it “puffs up” and the cenci are crisp, light and absolutely delicious!
Cenci (the name literally means rags) are typical of the Carnival period in Tuscany and many other Italian regions. Their name varies (as do some ingredients) from one region to another, but when it’s time to celebrate with the “mascherine” (= carnival costumes), wherever you go there are always stracci, strufoli, chiacchiere, crogetti or cenci!
(1) In days gone by this was done by repeatedly rolling a bottle (made of glass, naturally) over a tea cloth containing the two types of sugar. Want to give it a try?