Grandma Nat’s 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.

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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. 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

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Yuzu Curd Tart

Yuzu Curd Tart with Fresh Fruit and Flowering Mint

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

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Grilled Shrimp and Pomegranite On Cauliflower Puree

grilled Shrimp on cauliflower purée

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 gummy like potatoes. I love the contrast of the tart, crisp pomegranate seeds against the creamy cauliflower and the salty shrimp. It’s an easy dish to put together and I make this dish frequently. You can make the cauliflower purée ahead of time as well as toast your nuts and de seed your pomegranate. I like to do the herbal purée within the hour I’m eating so it stays bright green.

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)

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Moroccan Roasted Carrots

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

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Cranberry Pomegranate Tarts

cranberry-pomegranate tart

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

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FIG TART (with Earl Gray tea)

Figs are soft and sexy. Figs are a fruit that are no too sweet. They work with walnuts, almonds, honey, blue cheese, goat cheese, ricotta and mascarpone, vinegar, raspberries, lemons, oranges, bergamot, bay leaves, cardamom, thyme, marsala, port and whiskey and chocolate. Figs pair well with crunchy things. I never tire of using them cooked or raw. Keep in mind that like apricots they do have more flavor when they are cooked.

I offer you a simple tart made of poached figs, silky cream and a crisp tart shell.

COMPONANTS

  • One pre cooked pate SABLEE tart shell made with walnuts, or the pate sucree crust on my page if you prefer a crunchier tart shell.
  • Poached figs
  • Mascarpone cream Read More

Italian Spiced Plum Cake

This is quite a lovely recipe a version of which was originally printed in The NY Times with the title “Plum Torte”. It is deserving of all its devoted followers. It’s very like a cake my Sicilian grandmother used to make with apples. I made it last week and again this week. I’m obsessed! Fortunately, the season for Stanley plums, commonly known as Italian prune plums is coming to an end.

The NY Times recipe has a few versions, published at varying times. Depending on the publication, the cinnamon varies between 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 tablespoon. The sugar varies between 1cup and 3/4 cup. I think 3/4 cup of sugar is plenty sweet and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon is likewise enough. The recipe doesn’t call for any flavoring in the cake, just cinnamon sugar on top. I love a combination of cinnamon, star anise and lemon zest and vanilla with plums and often make plum preserves with these flavors. So I added a bit of vanilla to the batter and added some star anise to the cinnamon and sugar that’s sprinkled on top. I also changed the granulated sugar to sanding sugar for the top as I like a bigger crunch.

The original recipe also gives you a choice of baking in an 8″, 9″ or 9″ springform pan. I think 10″ would be too big because the resulting cake would be very flat and 8″ too small because there wouldn’t be enough of the crusty top or enough plums. 9″ is just right. The original recipe calls for unbleached AP flour but I prefer bleached for cakes. It gives a more tender crumb. Finally, the NYT recipe doesn’t call for any salt. I salt everything so I added a pinch.

INGREDIENTS

  • 150 grams (3/4 cup) superfine granulated white sugar
  • 114 grams, 4 oz unsalted butter, softened
  • 125 grams (1 cup)bleached AP flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 12 italian plums (Stanley variety), halved and pitted (24 halves)
  • Pinch of salt (1/8 tsp)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground star anise
  • 3 tablespoons of sanding sugar or granulated for sprinkling on top.
  • 1/2 a small lemon plus it’s rind

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Artichokes a la Barigoule (artichokes braised in olive oil)

Artichoke a la barigoule

The first time I ate Artichoke a La Barigoule I was in Chartres visiting a friend and it was she who made it for me.

Sandra was a wonderful cook but definitely “a pinch of this” and “a handful of that” kind of femme. I have acquired many recipes from her, for example, courgettes stuffed with cheese and Neapolitan style tomato sauce but it always entails watching her cook and rapidly writing everything down because Sandra has everything in her head and she moves fast.

Sadly, I didn’t watch Sandra prepare this dish. How was I to know that I should have been taking notes instead of chatting over a glass of wine? So, after my usual perusal of recipes on the internet and my memories of Sandra’s dish, I came up with a recipe I can share with you. It’s equally good the next day at room temperature. Please picture yourself in a house built of round stones, mortared into a two story cottage. You are seated at a rustic oak table, with your feet on a cool flagstone floor and an oak fire throwing heat into the room. It is September and the fields outside the window are golden. A subtle perfume enters the dining area from bouquets of lavender and thyme that Sandra has bundled and hung from the ceiling. Your plate of Artichoke Barigoule sits in a shallow bowl in front of you with some crusty bread and a glass of the wine you used to braise the artichokes.

Bon Appetit!

Julie

INGREDIENTS

  • 12 oz small boiling potatoes, mixed color, (little red, Peruvian blues and fingerlings)
  • Two handfuls of short cut carrots or two large carrots
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced small
  • 3/4 lb cooked, uncured, unsmoked ham, (Fra Mani plain or rosemary, Virginia ham or country ham), cut about two inches thick.
  • 8 medium globe artichokes
  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and a few peppercorns
  • 2 large shallots, minced
  • 3T olive oil
  • 2T freshly minced parsley
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • about two cups of water

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Marie-Paule’s Simple Poached Zucchini Salad

Marie-Paule is a minimalist. She uses high quality ingredients and just a few at a time. This recipe is a classic example. It is comprised of zucchini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. I threw in the tomatoes for color and a bit of parsley for something fresh but neither are necessary. You could use mint as well. I love mint and zucchini.

The quality of the zucchini you use is important. It should be as fresh as possible and firm. I prefer smaller ones as they cook more evenly. The salt and pepper is also important. I like Tellicherry pepper from India. I find it extremely aromatic and a bit spiced. You can play with the sea salt. I like sea salt from the Camargue but you could use another sea salt or perhaps a volcanic salt from Hawaii. You can play with the kind of olive oil but I would recommend extra virgin.

Julie

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb Zucchini
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I like Badia a Coltibuono)
  • 1/2 lemon
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • Handful of cherry tomatoes

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