This month... aaah, this month we explored Italy, another absolute favorite of mine, a cuisine whose rich history & wonderful regional variations have always captured my imagination & my taste buds. I must admit I was a bit nervous attempting a new recipe, since one of our lovely dining compatriots is Italian, & a fantastic cook. Her family holds an annual meatball contest, evidence that they take their food seriously. How fantastic is it that her wife has won the top prize for her meatballs a few years in a row now? Obviously, she has found the right partner!
We had a heavenly dinner in their quintessential New England home, a gorgeous & stylish antique cape with many original details, set in what couldn't be called other than a magical piece of land surrounded by old stone walls. Perfectly tender ricotta gnocchi in a roasted tomato & corn sauce, insalata caprese, baked butternut squash & polenta with toasted pine nuts & parmesan, artichoke heart, caper, green olive & fresh garlic pesto, eggplant caponata, ricotta fritters with genoa salami, & award winning meatballs marinara were passed around the long wooden table & thoroughly enjoyed. I think none of us wanted to leave. Oh, & I do believe the cannolis came out alright...
adapted from a few recipes, all reportedly passed down through generations by beloved Sicilian Grandmothers
3 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small cubes
2 cups unbleached white flour
4 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp unprocessed cocoa powder (optional, though I highly recommend it)
3/4 cup marsala wine
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 egg white, beaten
2 cups well drained sheep's milk ricotta
you can use cow's milk ricotta for a lighter tasting filling, but if you'd like a more authentic, rich flavor, & have trouble finding the sheep's milk variety, use a 1:1 ratio of cow's milk ricotta & goat cheese (chevre)
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
Shaved bittersweet chocolate, or ground toasted pistachio nuts
canola or vegetable oil for frying
prepare the shells
Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Stir in the sugar, cinnamon & cocoa powder. Add the marsala a Tbsp at a time until well incorporated. Be careful not to over-blend the dough; gentle handling ensure a flaky, light texture. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap & let rest in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface until it is 1/8" thick. Cut the dough into 4" circles with a cookie cutter, or the rim of a drinking glass. Roll the circle with one or two strokes in one direction to make an oval, & place the cannoli mold length-wise across the dough. Fold one side of the dough over the mold, then the other, sealing the edges together with a little bit of egg white.
Deep fry the cannolis in 2" of oil until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel, & gently twist the mold to remove it when they are slightly cooled.
A word of caution: when removing the cannoli shells from the oil, remember that they are hollow & you must carefully tip out the hot oil that is inside before removing them!
prepare the filling
Combine the ricotta (& chevre, if using) & vanilla. Add the powdered sugar gradually, tasting often & adjusting the sweetness to your taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.
assemble the cannolis
When the shells have drained & cooled & you are ready to serve them, pipe the filling into the center, & dip the ends in the chocolate or crushed nuts. Dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.