While the main course at Zoli's NY Pizza Tavern is and always will be pizza, this Oak Cliff slice joint has been stirring up some creativity on the menu, most notably with the zeppole.
Zeppole are basically Italian doughnut holes, popular in Naples, the pizza capital of the world. Zoli's sibling Cane Rosso has zeppole on the menu as well, served in a paper bag and dredged with powdered sugar. The Cane Rosso version is light and rather eggy, almost like a popover and, like all doughnuts, delicious.
But Zoli's chef Lee Hunzinger, a native of New York, wanted to recreate the zeppole he remembered from his childhood.
"This is a recipe I came up with while toying around when I was cooking back in New York," he says. "I wanted to make an authentic zeppole like you'd find at the feasts in Little Italy. In my hometown, you'd go to the Knights of Columbus events, and part of the deal was walking around with a bag of zeppole. I wanted to recreate that flavor."
Hunzinger's early experiments produced zeppole with a cakey texture, until he was inspired to add a secret ingredient: yeast.
"It's the same active yeasts that we use for our dough," he says. "Adding them makes the zeppole rise more, and gives them more of a chew than the ones we're currently serving at Cane Rosso, where the recipe is more like a beignet."
A yeast-fermented dough adds not only airiness and chewiness, but also shelf life. Beignet-style fritters are best eaten immediately, but Hunzinger's yeast-based zeppole can be taken home and warmed up days later.
Zoli's offers them only on a limited basis: Fridays for sure, and Wednesdays when the mood strikes or someone makes a request. They come in two flavors, from a selection that includes regular, Nutella, cannoli cream and the occasional seasonal flavor.
"I've made pumpkin zeppole, those are really good," Hunzinger says.