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Fried Pastries from Montalcino



There are many regional versions of these sweet fried confections, called cenci, or rags, because originally they were made from tattered bits and pieces of leftover dough. My grandmother Saporito cut hers with a pastry wheel into narrow strips, loosely tied them into knots, and dropped them into hot oil. The crispy sweets were piled high on a plate and covered with a blanket of confectioner's sugar. This version, which comes from Montalcino, makes a dough that is a little softer than the southern type.


5 large eggs

1/2 cup sugar

Grated zest of 1 large lemon

1 tablespoon vanilla

4 to 4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Peanut oil for deep frying

Confectioner's sugar


In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar with a whisk until well blended. Whisk in the lemon zest and vanilla. Sift 4 cups of the flour and the baking powder together and add to the egg mixture. Mix with your hands to form a ball of dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it until it is soft, but no longer sticky; add more flour if necessary.

Cut the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece out on a floured surface with a rolling pin to a thickness of ¼ inch. With a pastry wheel or a sharp knife, cut into strips 5½ inches long and 2½ inches wide. Make two 1-inch-long slits side by side in the center of each strip. Place the strips on a kitchen towel, and roll out and cut the remaining pieces of dough. A pasta machine, set to the finest setting, can also be used for thinning the dough.

In a deep fryer, heat the peanut oil to 375F. Fry the strips a few at a time until golden brown. Drain on brown paper and let cool.

Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and serve.

Note: This recipe makes a lot, but you can freeze the fried dough. Freeze, unsugared, in plastic bags. To serve, let defrost completely, then sprinkle with confectioner's sugar.

This recipe is from Ciao Italia by Mary Ann Esposito, published by William Morrow and Company Inc., in 1991.


  1. sharyn's avatar


    My grandmother and grandfather came here from Italy about 1901 as young children. Both were very good cooks. Watching your shows bring back such wonderful memories my eyes get full of tears. My grandmother made a fried pastry for me all the time. There was no lemon, cheese, eggs or powder sugar in it. She fried it and dusted it with regular white sugar. I would like to know how to make it for my grandchildren. I don't speak Italian and I don't even know the name of the recipe. Maybe you could help me.

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