I’m not a sweet person. Of course I’m nice, but when it comes to food I definitely prefer the savory over the sweet. My only weakness is cannoli. When it comes to this Sicilian specialty, I am an entirely different person. With its delicate ricotta cream filling that contrasts perfectly with the toothy crunch of its fried pastry shell, this is one dessert that I just can’t resist.
My love for Sicilian cannoli started when I was a little girl growing up in Catania, a city on the east-coast of Sicily. Luckily, my hometown is one of the best places to find authentic old-school cannoli. I can remember how when my family gathered together for lunch on Sundays I would, during a long series of tasty and filling dishes, keep some room for dessert. In the end my self-discipline always paid off because what a dessert it was!
The dessert I grew up loving has been enjoyed for hundreds of generations before me. Even Cicero, in a text written in 70 B.C., mentions a dessert made from a tube of grain and filled with milk cream. The cannolo as we know it today is said to have first been invented in the Sicilian city of Caltanissetta and related to the festivities surrounding Carnival. Over time, the dessert gradually lost its association with the holiday to become a year-round staple of Sicilian cuisine, although it remained a treat.
The name “Cannoli” derives from the fact that the pastry shells were originally shaped by wrapping one around a river cane [canna] before deep frying it. Today, metal tubes or wooden pins, both of which can be bought in a cooking store, have replaced the earlier plant-based forms.
Making cannoli is not as complicated as it might seem. According to tradition, an authentic cannolo has a fried shell made from a mixture of flour, sugar, salt, eggs and Marsala wine. The filling is blended from strained sheep’s milk ricotta cheese and small pieces of dark chocolate. Pumpkin is an ingredient that was originally used in the cannolo from Catania, but is rarely included today.
When it comes to decorations there are many options to choose from including the classic slice of candied orange peel, a candied cherry or pieces of pistachio. Today, if you don’t like ricotta, you can fill your cannolo shell with pistachio cream, chocolate custard for even gelato. Just be careful not to stuff your shells too far in advance or you’ll lose the wonderful crunchy contrast!