Monday, April 18, 2011

Italy! Cannoli!!

A cannoli is a Sicilian pastry dessert that is an essential part of the cuisine of Sicily. 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 traditional cannoli, the filling is made of ricotta cheese or even sweetened marscapone. 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. The pastry can be as small as the finger-sized cannulicchi to fist-sized offerings from Piana degli Albanesi, a town near Palermo which has three languages, an Albanian dialect, Italian, and the local Sicilian dialect. Cannoli originated in Palermo and the surrounding areas. They date to the time when Sicily was controlled by the Arabs. Historically, the pastries were made for the Carnevale, the festival season which occurs immediately before Lent. The festival is typified by parades and masquerades, something like Mardi Gras. It is thought that the cannoli might have been a fertility symbol during the season. Now, however, cannoli are enjoyed year round across Italy and in the United States. Americans who love cannoli might be more familiar with variations of the original than the original. This is probably partially due to the modifications that were made to the recipes by Italian immigrants once they got to the United States. In many instances, crucial ingredients were less available in the United States than they were in Italy. This may be why most cannoli made in the United States rarely feature marscapone. Cannoli do still contain ricotta. In other areas, the filling may be a sugar, milk, and cornstarch custard without any cheese. When buying or making cannoli, it is important to remember that they must be consumed quickly. If they are left to sit, the shell will absorb some of the liquid from the filling and quickly turn soggy and lose its crispness.

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