I will never forget the way the deep earthiness of the warm, fresh dairy both contrasted and complimented the floral notes of the local honey so brilliantly. One crumbly crunch of the fried dough sent this magnificent combination of flavors exploding in my mouth as the candied orange peel that dotted the end of my delicate dessert sent a burst of it’s sunny brightness erupting straight through the top of my head. My dreams of Sicily will forever be filled with luxurious tables laden with copious amounts of cannoli, carrying me back to that magical island on cozy currents of nectarous oblivion.
It’s been almost a full year now since we first left our long-time second home in the foothills of the Japan Alps and set of on our worldwide traveling adventures. I’ve been uncomfortably hesitant to write about our experiences in Sicily. There was SO much to see and to learn and to experience–and, of course, to eat!–that words just haven’t seemed fully capable of expressing the breadth and depth of it all. However, the more we wander, the more I’m learning to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And, the more requests I get for these special Sicilian sweet treats!
I hope and pray that this missive on the sweetness of exploration inspires you to set out on your own adventure, however near or far from “home” that may be. If you are so inclined to catalog the sights and smells along the way, we would love it if you came back to share your experiences with us! May your own adventures be as delicious as they are delightful! Here’s a little taste of ours . . . .
Our heads were hanging lower and lower, drooping as steadily as the setting sun. We’d been walking around and around the same series of three blocks for about 30 minutes before we gave up in frustration and waddled, luggage in tow, into the Indian restaurant on the corner. After stumbling through a barely-intelligible explanation of our situation in my very basic and broken Italian, the lovely couple inside greeted us warmly, offered us a beverage, and happily phoned our AirBnB host to ask for clearer directions to the apartment we’d rented for the next few days.
Ten minutes later, we’d reached the other side of the massive construction area that had thwarted our navigational prowess, only to fall into an exhausted heap onto the large, fluffy bed, fully clothed and utterly spent. While Our Little Sous drifted off into unconsciousness, Chef de Partie’s grumbling stomach raised the question of whether sleep or food was higher on the adults’ priority list. The angered appetite won out, and soon I was heading back out into the unfamiliar streets, relatively confident in my ability to locate something quintessentially Sicilian on our first night in Palermo.
The warm glow of the lights just across from the port beckoned me into the cafe, inviting me to ogle the wide variety of scrumptious-looking pastries illuminated on the other side of the glass display case. I knew exactly what I was seeking, so a quick order with lots of fingers pointing and counting ensued. The smiling face on the other side of the counter directed me toward a seat while I waited for my goodies to be wrapped up. A short time later, I was winding my way back around the silent scaffolding, my own belly barking at me in it’s desire to be filled.
Back at the apartment, we tore into the bags of treats, ripping into the warm and steamy arancini (deep fried rice balls), which oozed fillings of gooey cheese and spilled a succulently savory meat sauce down our quavering chins as we devoured each mouthful. But the truly titillating tidbits of the evening were the cannoli!
Crunchy and creamy, sweet and tangy, they hit every single pleasure hot button from the first touch on the tongue to the last morsel that entered our mouths. Sighing with blissful euphoria as the culmination of all our expectations was exceeded, we smiled at each other across the table, dutifully wiped the crumbs from our hands and faces, an then shuffled our way off to sleep.
Our Little Sous was delighted to discover that the next morning’s mission included finding even more of these classic Sicilian treats. His smiling face upon entering a nearby pastry shop tells all you need to know about his enthusiasm for this particular outing! We made our selections, and then made our way back to the apartment to rest and recuperate before repeating the challenge, heading out in a different compass direction in order to get the lay of the land and to familiarize ourselves with the city’s offerings.
The next few days were spent adjusting to a new time zone, a new city, a new language, and many more canolli: plain ricotta-filled cannoli and chocolate canolli and pistachio cream-filled canolli, canolli topped with candied cherries and zest of lemon, canolli with the ends dipped in tiny chocolate chips or crushed and toasted nuts! There were more sizes and varieties of canolli than we had time to explore! So it was inevitable that Our Little Sous and I would set out to recreate these classic Sicilian pastries once we’d finally gotten settled in our new kitchen.
Setting aside my long held fears of deep frying, we carefully prepared our mise en place. That’s the fancy french term professionals use for “getting everything ready to cook!” Although this wasn’t a complicated process, there were several steps to complete along the way, so it was important to get all our ingredients and equipment out and ready to go before we got our hands dirty.
We started with a big tub of sheep’s milk ricotta cheese, fresh from the farmer’s market. After adding a drizzle of local honey, he had a blast turning this old-fashioned hand mixer to blend the two filling ingredients together.
Once the honey had been thoroughly incorporated, he scooped it out of the bowl and into a pastry bag for piping the mixture into the canolli shells. Then–finally–it was time to taste! Our Little Sous would like to remind everyone that tasting is a very important part of the cooking process and must not, under any circumstances, be skipped when making this, or any other, recipe!!!
He really enjoyed rolling and cutting the dough. If you don’t have a special cutter at your disposal, any round guide and knife will do.
Next, Our Litle Sous wrapped the dough around the stainless steel canolli tube molds. If you don’t have this particular tool lying around in your kitchen, fear not! We also successfully completed these pastries by substituting pieces of broomstick handle for thicker molds and pieces cut off of a wooden kitchen spoon for tiny, bite-sizes canolli.
Then, we dropped them into the frying oil to cook them to a bubbly golden brown, sliding them off the mold approximately halfway through so that the shells could also cook through on the inside jut as beautifully as they did on the outside.
Setting the freshly fried shells aside to drain and cool on a paper towel, we continued frying them in batches until all of the dough was gone. Whether our Chef de Partie snagged some of the raaw dough or we actually cooked it all, I’ll never be 100% sure.
The last steps include piping the ricotta filling into the cooled pastry shells, then decorating each end with our previously prepared garnishes of candied lemon peel strips. Our Little Sous very carefully squeezed the honey-kissed cream into first one end of the fried tube, then the other, and dotted the creamy centers with the bright yellow rectangles of citrus.
Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, hand-made canolli are the BEST!!!
After devouring his canolli for the evening, Our Little Sous begged for more. In order to keep the shells crispy for the longest possible period of time, we carefully wrapped them–unfilled–in plastic wrap, then sealed the remaining batch in an airtight container, stored at room temperature on the kitchen counter until the next evening’s dessert. The pastry bag of filling was stored separately in the refrigerator, coming out only to pipe the center into the shells we planned to eat immediately.
Would you like to make your own canolli? We love great food, and we LOVE to share!!! Drop me a line via e-mail or leave a comment below, and I’ll be happy to send you our most coveted recipe!