I first tried “gossip” when I lived in Rome. No, not that kind. I learned what gossip was in the kindergarten when my ‘husband’, Jamie and I paid Gina for a pound of tomatoes and instead of putting the two plastic yellow coins in the till, she put them in her pocket. And instead of tommies, she handed us bananas. By recess time, everyone knew about the dreadful thing Gina had done to us.
But the other kind of “gossip” I tried for the first time in Rome during Carnevale was rectangular and crackly, dusted with icing sugar. And each bite sounded like chatter, just like gossip, which is why it is called chiacchiere by Southern Italians. In celebration of Carnevale, all the pasticceria windows in Rome are full of chiacchiere. I remember on weekends little girls and boys dressed up in their costumes would arrive with their parents to buy the fried goodies. The little ones would watch eagerly as the man behind the counter would carefully place each crisp rectangle on a golden paper tray. But before wrapping paper around it and sealing it with a bow, he’d hand one treat to the children, who would devour the chiacchiere, licking the sugar dust off their lips with each bite.
My friends and I loved having these fried treats after lunch with a thimble of dense, inky caffè, at pasticceria Tornatora, near our office. Shattering with each bite, the sugar would spread all over our mouths. And there we would stand, against the bar in our coats and knee-high boots on that lethal sugar-and-caffeine-high, doing some real chiacchiere (gossip) before heading back to our offices. Those were the Roman tail-end-of-winter days I particularly adored. And the sweet, crispy treats reminded me of tea-time at home in Pakistan with my family.
The Afghan kitchen has an equivalent of chiacchiere which we call gosh-e-feel in Dari, for their elephant ear-like shape. We sprinkle them with sugar just like the Italians, but we add another layer of colour, flavour and texture to it with crushed pistachios. They are just the ticket with tea on a cold afternoon…
Or, if you’re like my husband, back from Pakistan and jet lagged, you may want to have one, two, three, five, ah, maybe more, when you’re up at 4am- only to have your wife wake up a few hours later to find that the tray of gosh-e-feel she was supposed to take to work is one-third empty…Ah, bless him…
Makes 30-40 7cm treats
You will need a round cookie cutter (size of your choice), a wok or deep fryer and a rolling pin.
*200g + 50 g flour
*2 eggs, whisked
*30g butter, melted
*1 heaped teaspoon granulated sugar
*50ml full-fat milk
*neutral oil like corn or sunflower, for deep frying
*caster / icing sugar
*1 tsp cardamom powder or crushed cardamom seeds (optional)
*handful unsalted pistachios, crushed with a rolling pin
*handful edible rose petals, available at Persian or Middle Eastern grocery stores
*Sift the two portions of flour separately.
*Add a pinch of salt to the 200g portion.
*You will keep the remainder of the 50g of flour on reserve whilst you are kneading the dough.
*In a large bowl combine whisked eggs; cooled, melted butter; granulated sugar; and 50ml of milk.
*Add 200g of sifted flour and knead on a floured surface till it comes together and forms a dough.
*If it is seems wet and sticky, slowly add flour from the reserve till it begins to bind well.
*Knead for 10-15 minutes.
*Divide dough into two portions, cover with a teacloth or plastic wrap and allow to rest for 1 hour.
*Roll out first portion on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin till dough is half a centimetre thick.
*With a cookie cutter (size of your choice) cut out circles and pinch/pleat the sides with your thumb and forefinger so the circle resembles the ear of an elephant, as shown in the photo above.
*Place on parchment paper as you shape them and cover with a teacloth.
*Take the leftover scraps from the cookie cutter and knead it into the second portion of dough.
*Repeat the process of rolling out the dough and cutting out circles, as you did for the first portion.
*Place a wok on medium high heat with enough oil for deep frying. Test with a small piece of dough, if it floats freely to the top, the oil is ready.
*Fry the gosh-e-feel 3-4 at a time , 5-10 seconds on each side till golden brown. Keep transferring to a plate lined with parchment paper or paper towels.
*Sprinkle with icing sugar, cardamom powder, crushed pistachios and rose petals.