Struffoli and Little Old Ladies

Several years ago, I was signing my book A Fresh Taste of Italy at the Greenmarket in New York’s Union Square.  A man stopped by and told me he was looking for a recipe for vecchiarelle, meaning little old ladies.  He explained  that they were something like struffoli, only shaped like gnocchi and flavored with red wine.  As he described them, I began to remember the struffoli my godmother Jean would bring us every Christmas.  Somehow, I had forgotten all about them, even though my family loved them.  We always called them Red Wine Struffoli.

As soon as I could, I called my mom to ask her if she had a recipe.  She’d forgotten all about them, and she might have had a recipe at one time, but couldn’t find it anywhere.  Disappointed, I mentioned the incident to my sister, who thought she had once had it, but couldn’t find the recipe either.  One day, she was visiting our Aunt Millie and mentioned that she was looking for the recipe.  Aunt Millie remembered them too, looked in her recipe book and there was the recipe, carefully handwritten by my mother on pink notepaper more than 30 years ago.   When I finally got the recipe I knew how lucky I was since I hear stories all the time about family recipes that are lost because no one took the time to write down.

Vecchiarelle or Red Wine Struffoli

So here’s the recipe for Vecchiarelle, Little Old Ladies, or Red Wine Struffoli.  Copy it, put it in a safe place, and I hope it inspires you to write down your family’s treasured recipes for future generations to enjoy and think of you.



 Serves 8 – 10

4 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

3/4 cup robust red wine

1/4 cup olive oil plus more for frying

1 cup honey

Colored candy confetti

  1. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the egg, wine and 1/4 cup oil until blended.  Pour the mixture into the dry ingredients.  Stir until the flour is moistened.  Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead until smooth.
  3. Cut the dough into 8 pieces.  Roll each piece into 3/4 inch thick ropes.  Cut the ropes into 1/2 inch lengths.
  4. Holding a cheese grater in one hand, use the thumb of your other hand to press and roll  each piece of dough over the medium holes to roughen the surface on one side and form an indentation on the other side.
  5. Heat about 2 inches of oil in a deep, heavy pot until the temperature reaches 370° F. on a deep frying thermometer or use an electric deep fryer.
  6. Carefully lower just enough of the pieces into the pot so that they form a single layer and are not crowded.  Cool, stirring occasionally, until they brown, 3 to 4 minutes.
  7. Remove the pieces with a slotted spoon and drain well on paper towels.  Repeat with the remaining dough.
  8. Heat the honey in a large pot just until it warms and thins out.  Remove from the heat.  Add the fried pieces and stir well until the honey is cooled and the struffoli are coated.  When completely cold, scrape the struffoli into a cookie tin and seal tightly.  Sprinkle with the candy confetti just before serving.


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1 Marianne { 11.19.12 at 9:42 AM }

Robust Red Wine -how robust!

2 melanie { 12.17.12 at 12:49 PM }

thank you for this! i have my grandma’s struffoli recipe, but not her recipe for “wine balls” — which I always preferred over the “honey balls.” i will use your recipe to inspire my own take on grandma’s version.

3 Michele Scicolone { 12.18.12 at 6:45 AM }

They are good! Happy holidays, Melanie.

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    • Michele Scicolone