I tasted seaweed fritters on the first morning I woke on the island of Ponza, at the sweet and cozy Piccolo Hotel Luisa. I almost missed them entirely. Tucked away on a corner shelf of the terrace where breakfast was served, the fritters caught my eye only as I angled for a photo of the colorful Ponza houses below. At first I thought they must be sweet fritters, but their aroma promised otherwise. I could not identify the flavor, only that it was subtle, delicate, slightly salty, herby. When hotel founder Signora Luisa Mazzella, the 88-year-old spry and amiable woman known to all as ‘Nonna Luisa, The Rock of Ponza,’ arrived, I decided to ask about them. She was more than happy to oblige my curiosity.
Life on an island can be tough. What we tourists often fail to notice, dazzled as we are by the beauty of places like Ponza, are the challenges and demands island life entails. Resources are limited, and scrupulously managed—fresh water in particular, but also items like poultry and game, corn and wheat, and certain fruits and vegetables can be difficult to obtain on an island. Nonna Luisa explained that seaweed came to be used in the island’s cuisine given its abundance, nutritional qualities, and flavor. Seaweed can be used fresh or dried (like an herb), and to find it on Ponza one need only head down to the port when fishermen are returning with their catch; or, it can be purchased weighed and packaged at the fish counter. These fritters reflect an astute exploitation of a readily available resource, a common theme of island life.
This recipe is for a very large batch of fritters. You can reduce this recipe’s ingredients by a third, or enclose any unused dough securely in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for a couple days.
300 grams (about 10.5 ounces) cooked white rice, cooled
300 grams fresh seaweed
zest of 1 lemon
1 kilogram of flour (about 7 cups)
1 tsp salt
Rinse the seaweed and cut into small pieces. Combine the rice, egg, seaweed, and lemon zest and mix well. In a separate bowl mix the flour and salt, then incorporate the dry ingredients into the rice and seaweed mixture until a uniform dough forms. Add water as needed. Shape the dough into balls about the size of a walnut and fry them in good oil until golden and crispy. Transfer to a paper-covered platter and dust with a little salt and pepper while still hot (test the saltiness first).