The island of Sicily is nestled between the Calabria region of Italy and the African coast. It has changed ownership many times over the past centuries being ruled by Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Islamics, Normans, Hohenstaufen, Catalans and Spaniards. Each of these rulers has left an indelible mark on her history and culture. Sicily is rich with beautiful archeological sites, modern cities and glorious beaches. Although it is classed as an autonomous state, it has been part of Italy since 1860.
The Sicilian people are very proud of their island and their cuisine. The island is rich with agriculture producing olive oil, wine, citrus fruit, figs, artichokes, and pistachios. She also has a thriving fishing industry. Sicilian cuisine, like all Italian cuisine, is centred around the freshest fruits and vegetables accompanied by veal, chicken and fish. Octopus and squid are very popular holiday dishes.
Life in small town Sicily is still very simple compared to her large cities. Many of the small town shops still close from 1:30 to 4:00PM each so that the owners can enjoy a mid day meal and a siesta before opening for a few hours in the evening. Often the large meal of the day is the mid day meal followed by a light supper in the evening.
One of the best desserts in Sicily has become popular in North America. Cannoli are considered to be lucky so they are often served during celebrations. They are one of my favourite desserts. I love the rich, creamy filling of ricotta and cheese surrounded by a crunchy shell flavoured with cocoa and cinnamon.
Makes 10 servings
For cannoli shells
1 cup all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 lb cold lard
2 tablespoons sweet Marsala wine
1 large egg, separated
About 3 cups vegetable oil
1 lb fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 oz soft mild goat cheese
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon minced candied orange peel
1/2 teaspoon orange-flower water (also called orange-blossom water)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup shelled unsalted pistachios (not dyed red), chopped
2 oz bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped (1/2 cup)
Special equipment: a pasta maker; a 4- to 4 1/4-inch round cookie cutter; a deep-fat thermometer; 6 (roughly 5 5/8- by 5/8-inch) metal cannoli tubes; 2 heavy-duty oven mitts; a pastry bag fitted with a 3/4-inch plain tip
Garnish: confectioners sugar
Make dough for shells:
Whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Add 2 tablespoons lard and blend in with your fingertips until combined. Add wine and yolk and stir until a dough forms.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 5 to 7 minutes. Form dough into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then let stand at room temperature 1 hour.
Make filling while dough stands:
Beat together ricotta, goat cheese, confectioners sugar, orange peel, orange-flower water, and cinnamon in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed 1 minute (do not overbeat). Fold in nuts and chocolate until combined and chill.
Set smooth rollers of pasta maker at widest setting. Unwrap dough and cut in half, then lightly flour 1 piece (keep remaining half covered with plastic wrap). Flatten floured dough into an oval and feed through rollers. Turn dial down 2 notches and feed dough through rollers again. Continue to feed dough through rollers, making space between rollers narrower by 2 notches each time, until narrowest setting is used.
Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap. Transfer rolled dough to a lightly floured surface and cut out 4 or 5 rounds with floured cutter. Transfer rounds to baking sheet and keep covered with more plastic wrap. Roll out remaining dough and cut rounds in same manner. Gather scraps and let stand 10 minutes. Roll out scraps and cut in same manner.
Heat remaining lard with 1 1/4 inches oil in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat until it registers 350°F on thermometer.
Meanwhile, lightly oil cannoli tubes. Lightly beat egg white, then brush bottom edge of 1 dough round with egg white. Wrap dough around a tube, overlapping ends (egg-white edge should go on top), then press edges together to seal. Make 5 more shells in same manner (keep remaining rounds covered with plastic).
Fry dough on tubes 1 at a time, turning with metal tongs, until 1 shade darker, about 45 seconds. Wearing oven mitts, clamp end of hot tubes, 1 at a time, with tongs and, holding tube vertically, allow shell to slide off tube onto paper towels, gently shaking tube and wiggling shell as needed to loosen. (If you allow shell to cool it will stick to tube and shatter when you try to remove it.) Transfer shells to paper towels to drain and cool tubes before reusing. Wrap remaining dough around tubes and fry in same manner.
Spoon filling into pastry bag and pipe some into 1 end of a cannoli shell, filling shell halfway, then pipe into other end. Repeat with remaining shells.
Dough can be made 1 day before frying shells and chilled. Let dough stand at room temperature 1 hour before rolling.
Shells can be fried 2 days ahead and cooled completely, then kept, layered between paper towels, in an airtight container at room temperature
Recipe from Epicurious.com