Sicilian Fried Dough Balls – Christmas in Italy

Part eight in my Christmas Around the World series! Christmas in Italy, focus on: DOUGH BALLS! Big thank you to my friend Mel for joining me on the show again to share her family tradition!

Yay! Fried dough balls! A simple bread dough; little bites of it filled with cheese or pepperoni or anchovies, then deep fried into crispy, chewy, melty balls of sin. Delicious, delicious sin.

sicilian fried dough balls

For part 8 of my Christmas Around the World series, my friend Mel came over to show me how her Italian family made these Sicilian fried dough balls, or just “dough balls” as Mel refers to them. She tells happy stories about the whole family participating in the dough ball fiesta on Christmas Eve every year. Mom and dad would make the dough, and she and her brother would roll and stuff the balls. As soon as they were rolled, they’d go into the fryer and as soon as they were cooked, they’d be snatched up and eaten as fast as possible. The dough recipe actually comes from her dad’s Lebanese family and is a very basic olive oil and yeast dough. Anchovies are the most traditional filling and her mom’s favorite (salt-packed, please, if you can find them) but we also used provolone, pepperoni chunks, and some dark chocolate bites for a dessert version.

fried dough balls

Fried dough balls filled with tasty niblets

Check out Mel’s most recent paleo cookbook, WellFed2! For a link to the paleo, grain-free dough recipe, check out this post on TheClothesMakeTheGirl.

Sicilian Fried Dough Balls Video (scroll down for recipe)

Mel’s Sicilian Fried Dough Balls recipe — Printable!


Sicilian Fried Dough Balls – Christmas in Italy

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4.5 from 4 reviews

  • Author: Melissa Joulwan
  • Prep Time: 1 hour
  • Cook Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes


  • pounds flour
  • 1½ cups warm water or more as needed
  • 2 packages dry yeast
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 to 3 tsp. salt (she poured salt into her hand and dumped it in)
  • about 4 cups peanut oil for frying
  • Filling:
  • 1-lb block provolone cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 package pepperoni
  • 1 can anchovies (preferably in water, not oil)
  • 1 bag Dove Dark Chocolate Promises


  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water and allow to activate for a few minutes. Mix in the oil.
  2. Mix flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the yeast to the flour and mix well with a dough hook. Continue mixing until all the flour is incorporated and dough is shiny, smooth, and elastic — add more warm water a few tablespoons at a time if it is too dry. Dough should not be sticky!
  3. Remove from bowl and roll into smooth ball. Using your fingers or a paper towel, coat the inside of a large bowl with 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Place the ball of dough into the bowl, roll it around so it gets oil on all sides, cover with a clean dish towel and allow to rest in a warm place until it doubles in size.
  4. Tear off pieces of dough and roll in palms to form a nice size ball. Flatten a little so you can insert the filling. Roll into ball again and place on a floured board. Continue making balls until you use all the dough.
  5. Cover board with a towel and allow to rest 10 minutes.
  6. Drop balls into hot oil (350ºF) in a deep fryer. Fry until golden. Eat immediately.

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Check out this Linguine with Clam Sauce recipe, too!

And of course, how could I forget the first video Mel and I made together: Vampire-fighting Pork Stew!


  1. Rutager on December 19, 2013 at 10:04 am

    As charming as y’all are, y’aint got nothin’ on Alton Brown’s balls.

    Just sayin’

    • Hilah on December 20, 2013 at 9:29 am

      Ha! Did he do a recipe like this? I love AB.

  2. Ralph on January 12, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Should the recipe say cups for flour or pounds?

    • Hilah on January 12, 2014 at 4:43 pm

      Hey Ralph! It is 2.5 pounds, or about 9 cups. In the video we cut the recipe in half, though.

  3. Ginny on December 8, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    I grew up with these! We call them sphengias, I guess that is Sicilian for dough balls. You can put salted cod, broccoli, shrimp, anchovies, cauliflower, raisins, shrimp, basically whatever suits your fancy.

    • Hilah on December 10, 2014 at 10:51 am

      Oh my gosh, Thank you, Ginny! I looked online forever and couldn’t ever find a name for these. I’ll tell Mel. 🙂

    • Carolynn on June 22, 2016 at 7:41 pm

      My grandma made these every Christmas. Always with cod fish. She was from Puglia. Have made them myself, but with pizza dough recipe. Have been looking for a written recipe. Never knew the Italian name for sure. My mother called them Pettals(spelling?) Could never find a recipe with that name.

      • Natalie on December 20, 2020 at 12:35 pm

        Yes, we had them too spelt or sounded similar to what you are referring to. I just found the recipe for it on another site. So happy. Christmas Eve will now be complete.

    • Francoise on December 4, 2016 at 1:31 pm

      I’m trying to make these from memory :/ Salt cod soaking now. If there are any people in the know, reading this, please hook a girl up with directions. If memory serves me correctly the salt cod is cooked, flaked and mixed in with the dough??

      • Donelda Presco on April 14, 2019 at 9:43 am

        We used to take a piece of cod,roll it in the center of the dough ball and fry.

  4. Cyndee Donato on December 16, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    My husband’s family from Calabria called them vecchierelle and we fill half with anchovy and half with ricotta. I am going to try your dough recipe this year!

    • Hilah on December 16, 2015 at 1:38 pm

      Thank you, Cyndee! I have tried for years to find a proper name for these “dough balls”! 🙂

  5. GRACE-LYNN on December 18, 2015 at 8:21 am

    We call them Anchovy balls. We make them every Christmas Eve

  6. rv on August 8, 2016 at 7:53 am


    here in lawrence, ma we make these during labor day weekend for the feast of the three saints. We call them Crispelli’s. People wait in long lines outside the Italian Deli where they are made. I don’t remember the name of the town in Sicily where this feast is still celebrated.

    • Hilah on August 8, 2016 at 7:58 am

      Thank you! Yes! I just googled it and I think crispellis is the right name for them! 🙂

  7. Nathan on November 20, 2016 at 7:06 am

    My grandmother made dough balls every Christmas, and I could never find the recipe. Now that I have it ,thanks to you, I have one question; is it best to use olive oil,or will any cooking oil do? Thank you so much.

    • Hilah on November 20, 2016 at 2:06 pm

      Hi Nathan!
      I prefer to use canola or corn oil for frying, generally. For this recipe, you could use a light olive oil. Don’t use an extra-virgin or an unfiltered or unrefined olive oil because it has a low smoke point and is not good for deep frying.

  8. Carseb on December 19, 2016 at 6:49 am

    The proper Italian name for these is sfingi (pronounced S FEEN GEE).

  9. Anthony on December 26, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    My grandmother made them with Anchovy and called them Seepoli -though I’ve seen it spelled “Zeepoli”

    • Hilah on December 29, 2017 at 4:26 pm

      Thank you, Anthony!

      • Christine on December 18, 2022 at 2:08 pm

        Can you use an Air Fryer? Plz do t shoot me!

  10. Noelle on March 13, 2019 at 8:35 am

    My Italian grandma used to make these and taught my mother how to make them, which recipe she passed down to me and my sisters. She called them Zippoli (pronounced as see-po-lee). Grandma made them stuffed with sardines or cheese or olives. I make them now, but changed some of the stuffing ingredients to cheese, olives, roast beef ‘n mushrooms, and/or Italian sausage. After the stuffed dough rises, I sprinkle them with parmesan cheese and deep-fry them. Then I drain them on paper towels.

    • Hilah on March 15, 2019 at 8:13 am

      Oh, Noelle! That sounds extra delicious to roll them in parmesan before frying!

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