Zeppole can vary in shape an style and these are little doughnut gems that are delightful when served warm – perfect for sharing after a tasty Italian meal. Adding fresh basil adds a subtle licorice note that works in a sweet treat, but omitting it and just making lemon zeppole is just as satisfying.
Makes about 16 zeppole.
Chiffonade is a “ribbon” cut of leafy greens and herbs, like basil and is done to prevent the basil from browning.
Cream the ricotta in a mixing bowl to smooth it out. Add the sugar and lemon zest and cream again (to draw out the flavor from the zest). Stir in the vanilla and egg yolks.
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs whites by hand until they are foamy and stir these into the ricotta.
Sift in the flour, salt and nutmeg and stir until evenly combined, and then stir in the basil.
Heat the oil in a tabletop fryer or in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, until it reaches 350ºF (180ºC). Drop in the basil leaves and cook them for just a few seconds until they are crisp (do take care, as the fresh leaves can spatter, or use dried here instead and skip frying the leaves). Remove them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain (they will be crisp). Stir the sugar with the lemon zest and crumble in the basil, stirring until finely worked in.
Use a small ice cream scoop to carefully drop zeppole into the oil in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the oil. Let these cook for 4 to 5 minutes flipping them over occasionally until they are an even golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to pull them out of the oil and onto a rack to drain. While they are still warm, roll the zeppole in the basil-lemon sugar and serve warm. The batter can be prepared a few hours ahead of time and chilled until ready to cook.