connolo: little pieces of sicily

A SICILIAN will tell you cannoli has to be filled with sheep’s-milk ricotta and they must be eaten the day they are made.

There may be chocolate-cream filled, custard loaded, coffee creme varieties sold in Australia but a real cannolo, Sicily’s most famous pastry, is something quite different.

In Sicily, crisp-fried pastry shells are filled with a not-too-sweet mixture of dense and creamy sheep’s-milk ricotta – either plain or laden with candied citrus, usually blood orange – a pinch of cinnamon, crushed pistachios, a few drops of orange blossom water and bittersweet chocolate chips.

Cannolo starts as an oval of pastry wrapped around a wooden dowel or metal tube, then deep-fried before being filled. The butter pastry includes cocoa powder, cinnamon and marsala, though digressions from the original recipe bring in things such as amaretto and orange liqueur.

Cannoli originated in Palermo as a festive pastry eaten at the Carnivale before Lent as a final culinary fling before fasting.

When Sicilian immigrants arrived in the US, they were forced to make do without the traditional ingredients, and so cream-filled and mascarpone-centred cannoli became commonplace. But the ubiquitous Sicilian pastry remains a part of Italian tradition and pride, it even gets a mention in the movie The Godfather.

The plural for this Italian treat is cannoli and the singular cannolo. In Sicily’s local language, the singular is cannolu, which means “little tube”. They range in size from the tiny finger-sized cannulicchi to the fist-sized tubes found south of Palermo.

Cannoli should be made and eaten on the same day – while they have their crunchy shell and soft centre – just as they are in Sicily.

This article first appeared in Good Living, The Sydney Morning Herald on 21 September 2010. Read it here.

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