Did you know that June 16th is National Cannoli Day? I didn’t know it either and I’m 100% Italian American. Or at least I thought I was until DNA testing showed I am Middle Eastern too, with some ancient Saracen thrown in.
While researching an article I was writing about a drive-up cannoli and espresso stand in our Lake City Seattle neighborhood, I learned my Saracen ancestors helped create cannoli when they brought sugar cane to Sicily in 800 C.E. You can thank me.
Cannoli are tube-shaped shells of deep-fried pastry dough filled with sweet and creamy ricotta cheese. This dessert originated in the Sicilian city of Palermo. The grandmothers each had their own version of cannoli: Maria from Sicily added mascarpone made from stracchino, a barely aged, soft cream cheese; Alfonsina from Naples preferred only ricotta, made from goat milk. Both women used a cut broomstick to shape the rolled shells.
Stuffed with luscious cheese, dusted with powdered sugar and studded with pistachios, mini chocolate chips, maraschino cherries or candied citrus peel, cannoli were historically prepared as a treat during Carnevale season. Today they are served anytime of year. What about calories you ask? Forget about it.
One of my favorite Italian cookies are anise-flavored pizzelles, baked on a round waffle-type hot iron. It is the oldest known cookie recipe dating back to the 8th century B.C.E. Grandma Romano from Abruzzo in Central Italy made us a tin of pizzelles every year for Christmas; her cookie press was cast iron, mine is electric. Pizzelles can also be rolled into little tubes and filled to make cannoli.
Biscotti is another Italian Christmas cookie tradition that my daughter Alana Marie carries on. Originating in the Tuscany city of Prato, biscotti is derived from the medieval Latin word biscoctus meaning, twice-baked. Dry and crunchy, biscotti could be stored for long periods of time and was a staple of the Roman legions. Modern recipes often include nuts: almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, and hazelnuts. Oblong shaped, biscotti may be dipped in Vin Santo, but morning coffee serves just as well.
Next week I am interviewing the owner of La Bohème patisserie. I suppose I will have to sample French macarons made with almond flour meringue shells filled with French buttercream or ganache. It’s tough work, but somebody’s got to do it.
© Janis Monaco Clark