Tuscan Coccoli Are the Deep-Fried Answer to Leftover Bread Dough
There might not be a more perfectly named food than coccoli, which translates to “cuddles” in Italian and refers to Tuscany’s favorite little balls of fried bread dough. Warm, pillowy, and torn in half to hug a salty piece of prosciutto crudo and a creamy dollop of Stracchino cheese, they really do taste like bite-size snuggles.
“Coccoli is something you know from when you are born if you are from Florence,” said Cristian Casini, a pastry chef at the Apicius International School of Hospitality in Florence. He grew up eating his grandparents’ homemade coccoli, served as an antipasto before pasta and rosticciana (pork ribs) at Sunday lunch. Now he remembers his nonni when he teaches the recipe to his students.
Fried dough exists all over Italy in various shapes and with different (but sometimes equally amusing) names.
Florentines know these crispy, fluffy, golfball-size bites exclusively as coccoli, but fried dough exists all over Italy in various shapes and with different (but sometimes equally amusing) names. Just 40 miles south of Florence in Siena, donzelle (damsels) are long, almost tubular, and stuffed with mortadella like a panino. Italians in Lunigiana, a region between Liguria and Tuscany, shape their fried dough into flat strips and call them sgabei. And in Puglia, street vendors sell spherical, olive-studded pettole (little farts) in greasy paper bags.
“I’ve had them square, opened up, and filled with marinated anchovies in Volterra,” said Judy Witts Francini, who leads cooking classes and culinary tours in Florence as Divina Cucina. “And then in Emilia-Romagna, you get a fried dough that is thinner than coccoli, the gnocco fritto. I always find it so hard to order food in Italy as everyone has a different name for things.”
Coccoli — and other iterations of fried dough — are believed to have originated as street food, when friggitorie (fryers) spooned leftover bread or pizza dough into bubbling oil. Francini remembers when the center of Florence was full of friggitorie around 30 years ago, luring students to their storefronts with the smell of freshly…