MAY IT PLEASE THE PALATE: Cannoli

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We caught up with neighbors last night dining al fresco at a local Italian restaurant. After the meal, my friend had a hankering for cannoli, “with crushed pistachios at both ends.”

“Al Fresco” is Sicilian for never sitting with your back to the door, especially if you’re a target of the mob. “Cannoli” is plural for a heavenly Sicilian dessert (the singular, cannolo, is rarely used).

In The Godfather, after Rocco Lampone assassinates Paulie Gatto for betraying the Corleone family, Peter Clemenza directs Rocco to “leave the gun - take the cannoli,” which they used as bait to lure Rocco out for a drive. It’s that special.

Most of us have encountered cannoli in pastry shops. They’re probably some variation of flavored whipped cream in a pre-made pastry shell. Italian cookbook author
Domenica Marchetti despairs at such heresy, sharing her grandmother’s recipe in a 2017 Washington Post entry entitled, “Why make your own cannoli? Because they’ll probably be the best you’ve ever had.”

She writes, “Prefilled cannoli means soggy cannoli. (If a shell is sturdy enough to stand up to cannoli cream for hours on end it is probably inedible.) Also, the filling is often unnecessarily sweet and sometimes thickened with cornstarch, at which point you might as well use spackle. All of these are crimes against cannoli in my book.”

True cannoli features “crisp-fried tubular shells that crunch and shatter just a little — not completely — when you bite into them, with a filling of rich, vanilla-scented, whipped ricotta cream.” The shape is said to be homage to the pastry’s 9th century origins, when Arabs ruled Sicily. “According to one version, the cream-filled cylinder of pastry was created in a harem as an homage to the sultan’s physical attributes.” Ahem.

Marchetti’s article notes many variations of traditional recipes: butter vs. lard, sheep’s milk vs. cow’s milk ricotta, shells made of pizzelle or coated with chocolate to hold them together. Note you may need a pasta machine to roll out the dough, and metal cannoli tubes, which are available at a kitchen supply store.

You will also need all day to shop for and make them, when you take into account the pastries, the ricotta filling, and the garnishes such as homemade candied orange peel. As for me, I’m too lazy to even reprint all the associated recipes. You can find them all here: https://wapo.st/2lBbGdCwapo.st/2lBbGdC

After you try your hand at making them, bring them to my neighbor to pass judgment. Don’t forget to dip both ends in pistachios; otherwise, watch your back.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and wrote a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor.

Follow him at @nickroumel.

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