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The king of Sicilia: the cannolo

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Cannolo siciliano: is there any other Italian dessert so popular in the world? Tiramisù may be one of its more glorious competitors, but cannolo making is an art that you can’t reproduced at home with the same simplicity. We can all make a good tiramisù in our own kitchen, but preparing cannoli right is far from an easy task. Cannoli siciliani have also a huge identity-defining power: Italian bakeries all over the world make of their presence on the shelves a symbol of “italianità” and heritage associated with only a handful of other products.

They are fried, tube-shaped pastry shells filled with a sweet, creamy filling. These treats have a long and storied history and just as many variations. For a traditional cannolo, the filling is traditionally made of fresh ricotta cheese from sheep's but sometimes you can find also sweetened cream. This cheese is blended with a combination of vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, Marsala wine, rosewater, or any other of assorted flavors. In addition, the size of the cannoli varies as much as the filing's flavorings. The shell is made of flour, butter, sugar, and a number of other ingredients. This dough is then rolled into ovals and wrapped around a dough ring and fried. Following the frying process, the shells are stuffed using either a spoon or a pastry bag.

As it often happens, the truth about cannoli’s historical origins is probably a mix of all the legends and beliefs collected and passed on through the centuriesTwo are the legends telling us the origin of cannoli, both of them agreeing on one thing: women are behind their creation, which took place in - or around - the town of Caltanissetta. The first tale brings us into an Arab prince’s harem, during the Arabic domination of the island. It is said that the emir’s concubines would bake pastries as a diversion, among them, a cylinder-shape pastry case filled with ricotta, almonds and honey. Supporting the arab origin of cannoli is the fact that the city of Caltanissetta is historically tied to the presence of the Moors in Sicily, as attested by its very name, which derives from “kalt el nissa,” an arabic locution meaning “women’s castle.” Interesting, considering the legend is set in a castle and the invention of cannoli, according to it, lies in the skillful hands of women. According to another story, cannoli were made for the first time in a convent near Caltanissetta. To celebrate Carnival, the nuns “invented” a tubular pastry filled with ricotta cream, chocolate chips and chopped hazelnuts. Concubines or nuns, it’s certain that cannoli were first made at the time of Sicily’s Arab domination, between 827 and 1091, and that many of the ingredients used were, in fact of Arab origin: it was the Arabs that brought to Sicily sugar cane, rice, almonds, jasmine, aniseed, sesame, saffron and cinnamon, all ingredients heavily present in Sicilian cuisine still today. As it often happens, the truth about cannoli’s historical origins is probably a mix of all the legends and beliefs collected and passed on through the centuries

Have you ever tasted a cannolo? If your answer is “no” trust me: biting a cannolo will show you the difference between a dessert and the king of the sweets. So, to get the best out of Sicilian essence you have to taste a cannolo, let me try to tell you my favourite ones in the whole Sicilian region!!

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The author

Eleonora Ruzzenenti

Eleonora Ruzzenenti

I am Eleonora, from Italy. I share with you a frenetic passion for travelling and an insatiable curiosity for different cultures. On itinari, you will find my stories about Italy.

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