Grandma Nat’s Authentic Sicilian Cannoli

Authentic-Sicilian-Cannoli

The only other cannoli I’ve had that rivals my grandmother Natalie’s was from a now extinct pastry shop in Chicago called La Pasticeria Natalina, which was owned by a talented young pastry chef called Natalie Zazour. Interesting that the two Natalies made the best cannoli I’ve had in this country. Daniel and I are going to Sicily this fall to celebrate his graduation from college so I’ll keep you posted about the cannoli in Sicily. Zazour’s cannoli were different than mine, made with imported sheeps milk Ricotta, dark chocolate chips and a strip of candied orange. They were lovely and I’ve tried them with my family but I always return to Grandma Nat’s, at their insistence.

The first key to good cannoli is to fill them to order, So, if you see pre filled cannoli in the refrigerator case at a bakery, walk away.

The second key to good cannoli is the shell, which must be light and crisp in order to contrast with the creamy filling. That is why you can’t pre fill them. Every minute they sit in the refrigerator they soften from the moisture of the filling and the inherent moisture in the refrigerator case or your refrigerator at home. You can fill them really fast with a pastry bag, so it barely saves time if you pre fill them and stick them in the fridge. And no, don’t fill and freeze them. Just don’t. This recipe makes about 40 shells. Grandma Nat used to keep them in a shoe box on the top landing of her two flat. The staircase to her apartment wasn’t heated so the shells kept well in the dry chill of that space. Hers lasted about 6 months.

The third key to a good cannoli is a filling that is light and creamy and has the unique taste particular to ricotta. Whether you use sheep’s milk ricotta or cows milk, make sure it’s whole milk and it’s creamy. If it’s grainy, you’ll never be able to eliminate that grainy texture even if you work it through a fine mesh sieve or tami. If you live in or around New Jersey, I would recommend trying sheep’s milk ricotta. You can order imported sheep’s milk Ricotta from Pastacheese.com. I love it but it’s too expensive for me to get it shipped to me from New Jersey. When you shop for ricotta insist on tasting it. It should be smooth and creamy, tasting of fresh milk. My grandmother has a technique for lightening the ricotta that I’ve never seen elsewhere: she makes a biancomangiare, which is cornstarch pudding, with whole milk. It lightens the filling without adding richness or a competing flavor. I love mascarpone and I know those who use it for cannoli but in my opinion, it’s too rich and its flavor overpowers the ricotta. Some use whipped cream. It’s not traditional and not very stable and once again, you want your filling to taste like fresh milk, not cream. It would be worth trying to mix Italian Meringue into the ricotta instead of the biancomangiare. You’d have to reduce or eliminate the powdered sugar but the Italian Meringue might lighten the ricotta without affecting the flavor and would be more stable than the biancomangiare. I don’t know how it would affect the texture. However, for the home cook, the biancomangiare will be easier, and my family has forbidden me from altering the recipe. So, if you try Italian meringue let me know!

So, I offer you Grandma Nat’s cannoli and I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

INGREDIENTS FOR SHELLS (makes about 35 shells)

  • 260 grams (two cups) all purpose flour (bleached will give you a more delicate shell)
  • 25 grams (2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
  • 23 grams(2 tablespoons) cold vegetable shortening (Crisco)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup white wine (you can use red wine if you prefer a dark shell. However, I think it makes it more difficult to determine when the shells are browned properly)
  • Cannoli forms
  • 2 gallons of canola oil
  • 1 egg white, whisked until loose up enough to brush it on with a pastry brush or your finger.

DIRECTIONS FOR SHELLS

  1. Place dry ingredients in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a few times to mix ingredients. Cut lard into a few pieces and add to the flour. Pulse until well incorporated. There should be no visible pieces and the flour should look a little crumbly. you can do this by hand in which case I would advise rubbing the lard in between your thumb and forefinger and then going back and rubbing it between the palms of your hands. Now, some suggest melting the lard and mixing it into the flour. I’ve tried that and didn’t like the result. I found that it made the shells too dense.
  2. Mix yolks and wine in a small bowl. With the machine running, add to flour and pulse just until the dough forms a ball.
  1. Remove dough from food processor and knead until dough is supple and smooth, about 5 minutes.
  2. Cover dough with plastic wrap and chill for one hour.
  3. You can roll the dough by hand with a straight rolling pin. It should be rolled until thin enough so you can just see the pattern of the surface below it, whether it’s granite, marble or wood. However, if you have a lasagna attachment for your stand mixer, it’s so much easier. I use the lasagna attachment for my Kitchen aid and roll the dough to #4. You need to start at 1, then 2, then 3, then 4. I actually roll it through#4 two times.
  4. Cut 4″ squares of dough. I use a cookie cutter with a wavy edge. You could also cut a template of cardboard and cut the squares with a pie dough cutter/crimper Save your scraps. You must re roll them several times to get the number of shells called for in the recipe. At the end, you should be left with very little dough. 
  5. For the first shells, I like to oil the forms. It helps the first batch slip off easier. Thereafter it’s not necessary because some oil always sticks to the forms when you pull them out of the fryer. Place a square of dough diagonally under a cannoli form with the form parallel to you. So, it will look like a diamond shaped piece of dough with the form going across the center. Place a dab of egg white on the tip of the diamond shape, closet to you. Fold the the edge furthest from you up,over the form, towards you. Hold it in place while you fold the other edge over it. Press down to seal the dough. Set it aside and do the others. Don’t make them too tight or you won’t be able to get the shells off the forms.
  6. Heat the oil to 375 F and fry about three or four at a time until golden brown. My son Daniel does the frying and he likes to use a metal skewer to pick up the forms and place them on paper towels. It helps to have two people, one to fry and one to place the dough on the forms. If you are doing this alone, I would suggest rolling and cutting the dough and then covering the dough with plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out. Then, you can wrap the dough around as many cannoli forms as you can fry in a batch. I have a small fryer so I can o Lyndon three at a time.
  7. Let shells cool on the towels until you can pick them up and slide them off the forms. The forms will release their grip on the metal form as they cool so if a shell is sticking, give it a few more minutes to see if you can slide it off. there is a technique to taking off these shells. I like to place my whole hand on the shell and apply gentle pressure while twisting and pulling. If you’re having trouble get it getting the shells off the forms, you may be placing the dough on too tight. The shells should be completely cool before you fill them.

INGREDIENTS FOR FILLING

  • 1 lb whole milk ricotta weighed then drained
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup citron
  • 1/2 cup (3oz) hazelnut chocolate, preferably Lindt
  • 1 drop cassia oil

DIRECTIONS FOR FILLING

  1. Wisk together cornstarch and sugar
  2. Add milk a little at a time, wisking until smooth
  3. Place milk in a pot and cook over a medium flame until boiling. After it comes to a boil, wisk until,smooth and let it boil another minute.
  4. Remove from heat and put the pudding through a fine mesh sieve.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap making sure the plastic touches the top of the pudding so that it doesn’t form a skin. Chill until cold. This can be done 24 hours in advance.
  6. Push ricotta through a fine mesh sieve with a spoon, spatula or plastic scraper. The wider the surface area you have in the sieve the easier it will be. If you have a tami, use that with a fine mesh screen.
  7. Stir biancomangiare into ricotta. Don’t be tempted to use your food processor. You’ll over process it and end up with a loose cream. Not what we’re looking for. You can use a stand mixer with your paddle attachment set on low.
  8. Finely dice citron and coarsley chop the chocolate. Add both to ricotta. Chill until it’s time to fill the shells. This step can be done the morning of service.

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PLATING

Use a round or open star pastry tip with a fairly large opening. The size of the tip depends the size of your chocolate and citron bits. You need the pieces to get through the tip. Pipe the cannoli filling into a pastry bag and fill one end of the cannoli to the middle and then the other end. Dip both end in chopped pistachios and dust the shells with powdered sugar. Serve within the hour.

PS

Daniel and I did go to Sicily in October 2019. It’s such a lovely country and we had a fabulous time. The Sicilians we met were warm and friendly and very proud of their country and culture. Its history is fascinating. It’s a country that was invaded frequently and each time, the Sicilians blended some of the newcomers culture with their own, creating a civilization that is rich and varied.

However, having eaten cannoli in Palermo, Cefalu, Agrigento, Noto, Siracusa and Taormina we only found two places that rivaled my grandmothers: Cafe de Sicilia in Noto and Roberto’s in Taormina. The cannoli at Cafe de Sicilia used sheep’s milk ricotta with no embellishments. We found them a bit plain and wished for a bit of candied orange peel to make them more interesting. The cannoli at Roberto’s also used sheep’s milk ricotta but dipped the ends in candied hazelnuts. I would recommend both places.

Cannolo from Cafe Sicilia

Sicily is equally famous for its granita. If you go to Cafe Sicilia, be sure to try their almond or lemon granita, both of which are amazing. If you are in Taormina, go to Roberto’s but don’t miss Bam Bar for fabulous granita. Daniel and I fell in love with the combination of strawberry granita with almond granita topped with whipped cream.

Bam Bar granita

Daniel and me in Taormina

Spaghetti Alle Vongole Veraci (Spaghetti with Manila clams)

Spaghetti-With-Manila-Clams

I just returned from a two week trip to Sicily with Daniel. It was great to get away, just the two of us. We walked, we ate, we walked some more. We looked at a lot of Greek and Roman ruins, absorbed the incredible history of Sicily, a country who welcomed many different cultures and managed to keep bits and pieces of all of them. Then we ate some more.

The seafood in Sicily is incredible if you stick with the local fish. There is an endless supply of swordfish, sea bass, scorpion fish and crustaceans. One of my favorite dishes is Spaghetti Alle vongole Veraci. Vongole Veraci are small Manila clams. They meat is more delicate and sweeter than other types of clams and the shells are small and beautifully colored with purple.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we did, sitting at a table by the sea.

Three generous servings

Ingredients

  • 2 lb Manila clams
  • 3 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • 3T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 tsp dried red pepper
  • 1 T butter
  • 9oz dried spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh Italian flat leaf parsley

Directions

  1. Inspect clams and throw out any with broken shells. If they are open, tap on the shell. If it closes its alive and healthy, otherwise throw it out. Place clams in a bowl of cold, salty water to cover and let them sit 30 minutes in the refrigerator. After 30 minutes, remove the clams from the water and inspect to see if there’s any grit. If there is, rinse the bowl, put in the clams With fresh water and refrigerate another 30 minutes. Keep doing this until you don’t see any more grit.
  2. Sauté garlic in olive oil over a medium low heat until just turning gold. Add red pepper and wine and take off the flame.
  3. We Boil water for pasta and salt the water lightly since the clams are already salty
  4. Once the water starts to boil, add the pasta and cook about two minutes less than the instructions on the box suggest for al dente. It will cook more in the clam broth
  5. Bring the olive oil and wine to a boil over high heat. Drain the clams and put in the pot. I like to use a straight sided sauté pan with a lid, large enough so I have a single layer of clams. Cover and cook 30 seconds. Lift the cover and remove any clams that have opened. Place them in a bowl and recover for another 15 seconds. Lift out the clams that have opened. Continue like this until all the clams have opened. I do this so I don’t overcook the clams. Discard any shells that didn’t open.
  6. Set aside about 15 shells with, the meat attached. They’ll be used to garnish each plate. Remove the rest of the meat from the shells and place back in the sauté pan with the broth.
  7. Drain the pasta when it’s finished cooking and place in the pan with the clams and the broth. Add the butter and cook about a minute until the sauce has reduced a bit and everything is hot. Stir in parsley.
  8. Place pasta in plates, with any broth and garnish with the clam shells you set aside.

Cefalù

Yuzu Curd Tart

I’m really not a gadget person. I don’t have a lot of pots and pans or electronics. I’m not very technical. That being said, I do have a sous vide and I love it for steaks, chops that need to be tenderized, shrimp and lobster tails.

And now, curds. The texture of a curd made in a sous vide has a silky quality that is difficult if not impossible to achieve on a stove top. You do have to wait. It takes an hour to cook as opposed to 15-20 minutes in a heavy pot or a Bain Marie. I think the texture is worth the wait. The original recipe was on the Chef Steps website and was for a lemon curd which is just as amazing. I substituted Yuzu and I altered the way the ingredients are processed before being cooked. In my eyes, that gives me bragging rights.

You can fill little tarts with this curd, layer it between sponge cake, serve it with fresh fruit, make a pavlova or stand at the kitchen counter and eat it with a spoon.

The following recipe makes about six 3″ tarts or one 9″ tart

INGREDIENTS FOR YUZU CURD

  • 175 grams sugar
  • 75 grams of first press Yuzu juice
  • 75 grams Yakimi Orchard Yuzu puree
  • 200 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled but still liquid
  • 129 grams egg yolk (about 8)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon asorbic acid (you can usually get this wherever they sell preserving supplies)
    pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS FOR YUZU CURD

  1. Set your sous vide circulator to 167 degrees
  2. Mix sugar, butter, salt, and asorbic acid together. Wisk into egg yolks
  3. Place mixture in a plastic zip lock bag and slowly lower the bag into the water with the top open until the water reaches the bottom of the ziplock mechanism. Be careful not to get water in the bag. Slowly zip up the bag and let it drop into the water.
  4. Cook for 60 minutes
  5. Empty contents of bag into a high sided bowl and use an immersion blender to mix the mixture for 1 minute. It will lighten in co,or and become homogeneous.
  6. Place curd in a container. Rap it on the counter a few times to get rid of any air bubbles or you can pulse a blow torch briefly across the top and that will do the same thing.
  7. Lay some plastic wrap right on top of the curd to prevent a skin from forming. Chill a few hours until it’s cold and firm.

PATE SUCREE

Use your favorite or try the one I have posted on this blog

INGREDIENTS FOR TART

    2 pints raspberries
    2 mangos, preferably Champaigne Mangos, cubed small ( they should yield to slight pressure and the skin should be tight and smooth and yellow for the Champagne mangos)
    tart glaze ( use the one I have on the blog or your favorite.
    Yuzu curd

DIRECTIONS FOR TART

  1. Fill your tart/tartlettes with the curd leaving yourself 1/8″ rim. This allows the glaze somewhere to go other than down the sides of your crust. I like using a piping bag with an 808 tip or just cut the end off the bag.
  2. Place a perimeter of raspberries around the outer edge
  3. Fill the center of the raspberries with the cubes of mango
  4. Glaze lightly, making sure you cover the fruit as well as the cream. You can test the glaze by heating it u til it’s a liquid consistency and painting a spare raspberry with a brush dipped in glaze. If it pearls up or dries gloppy, thin your glaze with water. You want the glaze to just stick to the fruit.

Yuzu-Curd-Tart-Mangos-Raspberries

for the 9″ tart, I used one pint of Strawberries and about three Champagne mangos. Cut the mango off the center seed, lengthwise in two cheek. Then, peel off the skin with a very sharp paring knife. Next, cut each half lengthwise in very thin slices. The thinner the slices, the more flexible they will be and the more rose like. The rest you can infer from the picture.

Grilled Shrimp and Pomegranite On Cauliflower Puree

Cauliflower purée can work as a lovely backdrop for other flavors, in this case grilled shrimp. It’s low in carbs and won’t get sticky like potatoes.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1.5 lb shelled, deveined raw shrimp
  • 1/3 cup fresh pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons dried currants soaked in lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup Italian flat leaf Parsley
  • 2 tablespoons of tarragon leaves
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Sea Salt and pepper
  • 8 oz cauliflower rice (this is simply raw cauliflower that has been cut into rice sized pieces for convenience. You could certainly chop up a whole cauliflower)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Marinate Shrimp: Mince 6 cloves garlic. Toss shrimp with the minced garlic and 1/4 cup olive oil, ground black pepper and a few pinches of salt. Marinate for at least an hour.
  2. Make Herb Dressing: place the two remaining cloves of garlic, parsley leaves, tarragon and 1/4 cup of olive oil in a food processor and blend until you have a bright green purée. Season with salt and pepper and lemon juice to taste. Remove purée to a bowl.
  3. Make Cauliflower Purée: microwave cauliflower rice about 5 minutes until tender. Place cooked cauliflower in a clean food processor bowl with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Purée until smooth. Season with salt, white pepper and lemon juice. You’ll have to reheat this when you’re ready to plate. I like to use the microwave to reheat the purée
  4. Grill Shrimp: heat grill to high and place shrimp on grill. Almost as soon as you’ve laid out your shrimp, it’s time to start turning over the first ones to brown on the other side. Warm the dressing in the microwave and toss the shrimp in the dressing until lightly coated.
  5. Plate Shrimp: place about 1/3 cup of warm cauliflower purée in the center of each plate. Pile about 5 shrimp in the center of the purée. Scatter each plate with pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and currants.

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This dish could easily be done with puréed fennel instead of cauliflower. In that event, I’d slice the fennel really thin and cook it gently in a covered sauté pan with a few tablespoons of water until tender. Purée it and add olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice and a little Pastis to taste. Omit the tarragon in the herb dressing.

Moroccan Roasted Carrots

One lovely rainy day I found myself quite alone with nothing to do. I decided to drive downtown to see how Restoration Hardware had renovated the Three Arts Club where they are currently residing. It’s a beautiful old building and RH had managed to turn it into a retail space while respecting the buildings grace and age.

After wandering around for a while I took myself to lunch on the main floor where RH had created a restaurant housed in a beautiful courtyard with a fountain. I had this very nice salad, which combined things that I love in a creamy, crunchy, sweet and salty combination. I didn’t bother asking for the recipe. It’s elegant in its simplicity.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1lb multi colored baby carrots (purple, white, orange)
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered coriander
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 6 oz container whole milk Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped mint

DIRECTION

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Mash salt, garlic, black pepper, ground coriander and cumin seeds into a paste. Add olive oil to the paste
  3. Coat carrots with paste and cook until tender. Cooking time varies depending of the thickness of the carrots, between 20-30 minutes.
  4. Mix cardamom, honey and about a teaspoon of lemon juice into the yogurt. Adjust seasonings to your preference.
  5. Place yogurt on a platter and place the carrots on top.
  6. Scatter pistachios, chopped mint and sliced dates over the carrots and around the platter.

Cranberry Pomegranate Tarts

I love curds: lemon, lime, grapefruit and passion fruit all make great curds because they are sour fruits. I recently came across cranberry curd tart recipes in The New York Times and the magazine ” Bake”. There are some differences in both those recipes and I also made some changes. The biggest difference is that I add the butter last, after the curd has cooled down a bit. This improves the texture of the cream.

This is a nice curd to do around the holidays. Both pomegranates and cranberries are in the stores fresh, from November-December which makes it a nice seasonal dessert.

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 fully baked Pate Sucree 4″ tart shells or one 9″ tart shell ( see recipe on another page of my blog
  • 340 grams (12 oz ) fresh cranberries
  • 200 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar
  • Zest of one large naval orange
  • Juice of one large naval orange and enough lemon juice to make up a 124 grams (1/2 cup) of liquid.
  • 114 grams (2 large) eggs
  • 36 grams (2) large egg yolks
  • 113 grams (1/2 cup ) unsalted butter cut in to 16 pieces
  • Salt

DIRECTIONS

  1. Rub the sugar and orange zest between your fingers to release the orange oil.
  2. Combine sugar, zest, orange juice, and cranberries in a 1 quart sauce pan and bring to a simmer.
  3. Simmer cranberries for between 5 and 8 minutes until most of the cranberries have popped and released their liquid. Be careful not to overcook.
  4. Run cranberries through a food mill with the finest disc. Discard the skins that won’t push through.
  5. Crack eggs and combine the whole eggs and yolks, wisking until homogenous.
  6. Temper eggs with some of the hot cranberry mixture and combine the rest of the cranberries and eggs.
  7. Place cranberry/egg mixture in a clean 1 quart sauce pan and cook over low to medium heat depending on your comfort level, wisking constantly. I like to use medium heat because I’m impatient but I always have a an immersion blender and a cold, wet towel folded on the counter near the stove. If it looks like it’s going to curdle I remove the pan from the heat and place it on the cold towel and whisk like crazy or use the immersion blender to smooth out the mixture.
  8. Wisk until thickened. The mixture should reach about 170 degrees and your wisk should leave tracks in the curd.
  9. Run curd through a fine meshed sieve and let cool to about 140 F.
  10. Using an immersion blender, blend butter in to curd, 4 pieces at a time. Once butter is incorporated blend another 3 minutes. This aerates the cream and makes it light and smooth. It also lightens the color so if you want a deeper color, just wisk the butter in gently.
  11. Pour curd into pre baked tart shell and smooth it with an offset spatula.
  12. Now, you have the option of popping the filled tart into a 350 F degree oven for about 8 minutes to set the curd and make it easier to slice. I wouldn’t bother doing this with the small tarts but for a large tart that you have to cut into individual pieces, there’s an argument for baking. It does change the texture of the curd a bit, losing some of that unctuous creaminess. This curd is fairly stiff so you will be able to slice it without baking it, but if you need super clean edges, setting the curd in the oven is the way to go. If you bake it, let it cool before you put the pomegranate seeds on it.
  13. Decoratively place some pomegranate seeds around the perimeter of the tart and chill until service.
  14. To plate this, you could serve it with a dollop of whipped cream on the side, or you could buy extra cranberries, make a coulis and use the coulis do some decorative smears on the plate. For the coulis, I would buy extra cranberries and repeat the first three steps of this recipe, however, instead of running the mixture through a food mill and pushing it through a sieve, I would place the mixture in a medium sieve and let the juices drip through, pushing gently on the cranberries. The goal is to get a pretty clear juice, not a purée.

11/2019

I revisited this recipe, having just done a lemon curd and then a Yuzu curd sous vide. Once you’ve made and sieved your cranberry purée,let it cool to room temp. Mix it with the egg yolks, whole eggs and butter that has been melted and cooled to room temp. Place all in a ziplock bag and proceed as per the instructions for the Yuzu curd on my blog.