Sicilian cannoli and Sicilian jewelry – a match made in heaven

I have a passion for jewelry, mostly the really expensive antique kind, the kind that I cannot afford. I have always worn silver but as I get older, I have a new found passion for gold….. Well, let’s be frank, I always loved gold but in my 20s (and 30s) could only afford silver, so it is what I wore. My recent inspiration for gold was the 2012 Dolce and Gabbana Italian Family advertising campaign, with the timeless Monica Bellucci, surrounded by pensive Sicilian men, children playing, and beautiful models in floral frocks wearing long ornate gold and somehow very Sicilian earrings. They were the earrings I wanted.

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When I was in Sicily in September, I spent many hours looking at shops that sold antique jewelry, searching for the perfect authentic pair of earrings. Not only were the earrings I saw divine to look at, but each would have had a story to tell in their intricate design of the Sicilian beauty who must have worn them years before.

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The price tag of the earrings was at least equivalent to a return airfare Australia-Italy (ranging from economy to first class, depending on which pair) so alas all I could do was take photos of them. Unsurprisingly, I am convinced that gold Sicilian earrings go perfectly well with Sicilian cannoli, which are found by the dozen in pastry shops throughout the island. I have a vision of the whole D&G Italian Family tucking into Cannoli Siciliani, designer clothing and jewelry intact, crunching into that crisp shell while the soft sweet ricotta filling oozes out the other end. And I figure that if I can’t buy authentic Sicilian earrings, I can certainly afford to eat Sicilian cannoli.

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Wanting to bring a bit of Sicily back to Australia, upon my return, I purchased the requisite metal tubes to make my own cannoli at home. Using a pasta making machine and a deep fryer, it isn’t too difficult, just time consuming. A good (albeit long) video that demonstrates the making of cannoli shells is here. While mine don’t look as pretty as the store-bought ones, they taste great! Just make sure you fill them with sweet ricotta just before eating as otherwise they will go soggy.

If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making the shells, search around for ready-made good quality shells from speciality stores, it makes the task very easy. And if you want to relive Sicilian memories (or discover them for the first time) without cooking at all, try the cannoli at Bar Idda in East Brunswick. It is a fantastic little Sicilan restaurant which I wrote a blog post about (link is here). Either way, you will be enjoying your own little piece of Sicily.

Cannoli with sweet ricotta

Makes 20-24 cannoli 

Pastry:
260g plain flour 
50g caster sugar
pinch salt
50g unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
10 ml white wine vinegar
50 ml dry white wine
1 egg, lightly beaten
Filling:
600g firm ricotta 
140g caster sugar
grated dark chocolate (optional)
1 egg white or milk for brushing
grape seed, peanut or sunflower oil for frying
icing sugar for dusting 
crushed pistachio nuts and/or glace cherries for decorating 

Place the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Scatter on the butter and using your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients. Add the vinegar, wine and egg and stir until they are incorporated. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until it is smooth (a couple of minutes). Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for at least an hour.  

To make the filling, place the ricotta in a wire meshed strainer and push it through the strainer with the back of a spoon. Add the sugar to the ricotta (and grated chocolate if using) and set aside in the fridge until ready to use.  

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board to 1-2mm. You can also use a pasta machine to roll out the dough, taking it down to the third last setting. Using a 9 cm cookie cutter, cut circles of dough.  

 Heat plenty of oil in a small saucepan with high sides (or use a deep fryer at about 180C). Make sure the oil is hot before frying by testing it with a scrap of dough, which should bubble as soon as you drop it in the oil. Wrap the circles of dough around the metal tubes (the tubes usually come in packs of four – so you can prepare four cannoli before you start frying) so that the edges of the circle overlap slightly. Seal the two edges with egg white and press firmly. Brush a bit of egg white over the shell as well. Carefully place one metal tube with pastry wrapped around it at a time in hot oil using heat proof tongs (or place three in the wire basket of your deep fryer). It should only take about 2 minutes to cook through and become brown. Lift out individual cannoli by holding the metal tube with tongs (or lift up the basket if using a deep fryer). Shake the shell from the tube and place on kitchen paper to absorb any excess oil. If the shells do not come off easily, then once the cannolo has cooled slightly, hold it gently with kitchen paper and use the tongs to lift the metal tube out from the cooked pastry. Place cooked cannoli shells aside. Carefully wipe the metal tube with kitchen paper and wrap another uncooked pastry circle around the tube, sealing it well with egg white. Repeat until they are all cooked. 

Fill the shells using a knife to push the ricotta cream into the tubes from either end. Alternatively, place the sweet ricotta in a piping bag and pipe into the tubes using a wide nozzle. Dip the ricotta ends of the cannolo in crushed pistachio nuts, dust with icing sugar and serve. 

If you are not going to serve them immediately, leave the shells unfilled in an airtight container.  They will last for about a week.  

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