Cannoli Siciliani: Crispy Tubes Filled with Sweet Creamy Ricotta

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Homemade cannoli are easy to make and even easier to eat.
Homemade cannoli are easy to make and even easier to eat.

Often at the end of a special meal growing up in Jersey Italian pastries would cap off the day’s celebration.

I’d visit Ferrara’s Pastry on Bloomfield Avenue in Newark and buy a dozen and a half of my family’s favorites. Sfogliatelle, baba, Cannoli, Neapoleans, eclairs. After Ferrara’s closed Calandra’s Bakery near the Water Tower and Dicky Dee’s fried hot dog joint further down Bloomfield Avenue became my go to place.

Here in San Francisco’s North Beach my favorite cannoli (little tubes) is Santo’s at Cavalli Cafe on Stockton. He fills them when you order one and drizzles the ends with his fresh orange syrup. He has regular size and minis. I always get the regular.

But I like my homemade cannoli too. They’re fun to make and really not that difficult. You can make the shells ahead and fill them just before serving.

My shells are crispy with blisters all over so be careful, they’ll shatter as you bite into the sweet, creamy ricotta filling studded with candied orange and chocolate chips.

If you don’t want to make your own shells you can buy the shells. I got a box of Ferrara’s shells at North Beach’s Molinari Deli on Columbus. Whip up your own ricotta filling and fill the shells just before serving so they stay don’t get soggy.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe is a Neapolitan pastry I love too. Check out my zeppole video episode and make some for yourself.

Buon appetito!

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Cannoli
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6
Ingredients
Shells
  • 4 cups sifted flour
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • canola or your favorite vegetable oil for frying
Filling
  • 4 cups ricotta
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
  • ¼ cup finely chopped candied orange peel (or lemon peel or candied citron)
Instructions
Shells
  1. Mix the flour, sugar and sea salt in a bowl. Cut in the butter.
  2. Add the yolks. Stir in the wine a little at a time until a dough forms. (Use more wine or water if the dough is too dry.)
  3. Knead the dough briefly on a well-floured board.
  4. Roll out the dough to ⅛ inch thickness, or run it through a pasta machine.
  5. Cut the dough in 4-inch circles. Wrap the circles around cannoli forms. (Buy the forms on Amazon and many retail stores.)
  6. Wet the overlapping edge and pinch the ends together. Flare out the ends.
  7. Heat the oil in a pot to 350 degrees. Use a candy thermometer to make sure the oil stay at this temperature. Fry the shells in the oil until lightly brown all over.
  8. Drain the shells on paper towel.
Filling
  1. With a wire whisk blend the ricotta with the powdered sugar until very smooth.
  2. Add the vanilla, candied fruit and chocolate and mix well into the ricotta and chill.
Assembly
  1. Fill the cannoli shells with the filling just before serving so the shells stay crispy. Piping the filling with a pastry bag works well or use a spoon to fill the cannoli from both ends.
  2. Dust with powdered sugar.

 

Torta Pasqualina: Easter Greens & Ricotta Cake

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Torta Pasqualina
Celebrate the end of Lent with torta Pasqualina, a savory Easter cake.

Easter is a relaxed holiday. There’s a saying “Natale con i tuoi. Pasqua con chi vuoi.” Christmas with your family. Easter with whomever you like. In Italy the Easter celebration spills over to Monday, called La Pasquetta, when Italians like to eat al fresco or go on a picnic.

Torta Pasqualina, Easter cake, is traditionally served as an antipasto on the Easter table. Torta Pasqualina is best at room temperature so it’s good to go for your picnic too.

The torta includes traditional symbolic Easter foods. Before modern production, eggs were costly and only available this time of year so eggs and tender leafy greens are a reminder of spring awakening.

The dough for the crust is fun to make. It’s pliable enough so that you can stretch it and roll it out really thin. If making dough doesn’t sound like fun to you, use puff pastry instead.

Chard and baby spinach sautéed with onion in olive oil and brightened by fresh marjoram forms the first layer. Ricotta whipped light and fluffy with egg and parmigiano creates the second layer topped with a golden phyllo-like crust.

Spring lamb, “the Lamb of God” in all those Renaissance paintings, is a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice. So baby spring lamb is another traditional Easter food. If you’re looking for an Easter main course check out my abbacchio video, baby spring lamb roasted with rosemary and garlic served with golden potato wedges. And if you want help with the other courses, check out my Easter recipe roundup.

Buona Pasqua! Buon Appetito!

 

Torta Pasqualina: Easter Chard & Ricotta Pie
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Antipasto
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
Crust
  • 2½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 1½ cups water
Filling
  • 1 pound swiss chard
  • 1 pound spinach
  • 1 bunch of spring onions (or half an onion)
  • 1 pound ricotta, drained
  • ½ cup grated parmigiana
  • 9 eggs
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
  • sea salt freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
Crust
  1. You want to end up with 4 sheets, 2 for the base of a 10" inch spring form pan and 2 for the top crust.
  2. Dissolve the salt in the water then add the oil and stir.
  3. Put the flour in a large bowl. Add the water mixture.
  4. Mix the flour with a fork or knead it with you hand.
  5. When a dough has formed put it on a lightly-floured surface and knead it until it becomes smooth, about 2 or 3 minutes.
  6. Form the dough into a ball, wrap with plastic film and let sit at room temperature for about an hour.
Filling-Greens
  1. Blanch the chard and spinach in simmering water for about 3 minutes. Drain the greens and let them cool on a plate.
  2. When cool squeeze all the water out of the greens. You want them very dry.
  3. Roughly chop the greens.
  4. Chop the onion.
  5. Over medium-high heat put 2-tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan.
  6. When the oil starts to ripple add the onion and cook until the onion starts to turn translucent.
  7. Add the greens to the pan, add sea salt and pepper and mix well. Cook until the greens are tender.
  8. Put the greens in a bowl and add the chopped marjoram and let the greens cool.
  9. Put the ricotta in another bowl. Beat 3 eggs and add them to the ricotta along ¼ cup grated parmigiano, parsley, nutmeg (which I forgot to add in the video) and sea salt and black pepper to taste. Whisk all the ingredients together so that the ricotta mixture is well blended and fluffy.
Assembly
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Divide the dough in 4, roll 2 larger dough pieces (about 10 oz. each) to a thin sheet about a 13-inch diameter and the smaller balls (about 7 oz.) and roll out to to a thin sheet about 10-inches.
  3. Brush the bottom and sides of the baking pan well with olive oil.
  4. Spread one larger sheet of the pastry and spread it with evenly over the bottom of the pan and about up the side.
  5. Brush the pastry all over with oil.
  6. Put the second pastry sheet, put it on top of the first sheet and pat it so that the second sheet adheres to the first.
  7. Add the greens to the baking pan and spread them evenly over the bottom crust.
  8. Add the ricotta mixture and spread it evenly over the greens.
  9. Make an indentation with the back of the spoon in the center and then 5 indentations spread evenly mid-way between the center and the edge of the pan.
  10. Separate 6 eggs. Put an egg yolk in each indentation.
  11. Lightly beat the egg whites and spread a thin layer of the whites on top of the ricotta mixture and sprinkle grated parmigiano all over.
  12. Completely cover the top the ricotta layer with one of the smaller sheets. Press it to adhere to the side crust and brush it with olive oil.
  13. Lay the last small sheet on top to fully cover the cake and press this last sheet gently to adhere to the side crust.
  14. Cut off any dough that hangs over the side of the baking pan. Roll down the remaining dough on the sides, crimp with your fingers to form the edge of the crust an the circumference of the cake. Gently depress the edge with a fork to create a pretty top edge.
  15. Brush the top of the cake with olive oil.
  16. Bake the cake in the oven until the top crust is golden, about 45 minutes.
  17. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

Easter Recipe Roundup

Abbacchio: Easter spring lamb

Lent’s coming to an end. No more fasting soon, so I’m getting ready for my 4-course Italian-American Easter dinner celebration.

I’m bringing what’s available in the spring farmers market to our Easter feast.

For the antipasto I’m serving pizza rustica, a Neapolitan savory deep-dish ricotta pie with sausage, salami and fresh mozzarella. I’ll serve a slice of the pizza rustica with Giardiniera, marinated garden vegetables that I make a few days ahead so they reach their full flavor. Giardiniera will be a piquant foil for the savory pie.

My primo piatto, the first plate, is a light but full-flavored artichoke, leek and potato soup.

The secondo piatto, the second plate, is porchetta, a butterflied pork roast with an herb paste. The roast is accompanied by roasted potatoes dotted with truffle oil and cipollini agro dolce, onions in a sweet & sour glaze.

I’m bookending the meal with another Neapolitan Easter pie, pastiera, a sweet ricotta pie with wheat berries and candied citron.

Make the same dinner I’m making or change it up. Design your own Easter dinner. Choose from my selected dishes for each of the 4 courses. And if you just want to see the videos, check out this handy YouTube playlist.

 

Antipasti (before the meal)

Baked Baby Eggplant
Baked Baby Eggplant

Pair one of these dishes with your favorite Italian salumi, cheeses and olives.

Primo Piatto (first plate)

Soups

Tasty artichoke slices, leeks and potato in a thick thyme flavored broth
Artichoke, leek and potato soup

Rice

Risi bisi: Venetian Rice and Spring Peas
Risi bisi: Venetian Rice and Spring Peas

Pasta

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Secondo Piatto (second plate)

Porchetta
Porhcetta–Herb Filled Pork Roast

Contorni (Side Dishes)

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Use one of the vegetables in the antipasti selections or make one of these to serve with the second piatto.

 

Dolci (dessert)

Tiramisu

Easter Roasted Spring Lamb

Abbacchio: Easter spring lamb

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After 40 days of Lent, nothing hits the spot like tender, spring abbacchio.
After 40 days of Lent, nothing hits the spot like tender, spring abbacchio.

This is the time of the year to enjoy baby milk-fed lamb or baby goat.

The season lasts maybe 6 weeks running up to Easter. The prized animals are slaughtered before they are weaned and take on a more gamey flavor.

The breast and chops that I cooked came from a baby spring lamb that weighed just 35 pounds.

My North Beach recipe is a taste memory amalgam of the roasted capretto that my Mom made and baby lamb abbacchio and scottadito that I savored in springtime Rome.

The hardest part of this dish is finding baby lamb. I’m lucky to live in San Francisco, so I got mine at Golden Gate Meat Company in the Ferry Building. If you can’t get the breast use chops or even a leg of lamb. Any cut works with this recipe.

The breast riblets are crispy and fall off the bone tender. The chops have a golden brown crust and delicate flavor and can be cooked to your preferred doneness.

Keep an eye out for my Easter Recipe Roundup. You’ll see the other 3 courses I’m making for my Easter dinner and recipes for dozens of my favorites for you to make your own 4-course Easter dinner.

Buona Pasqua! Buon appetito!

Easter Roasted Spring Lamb
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • 2 anchovy filets
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 baby spring lamb breast or 4 double rib chops
  • 4 Yukon Gold potatoes
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup wine wine
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Place the potatoes in a pot of well-salted water. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes until just knife tender. Take the potatoes out of the water and set aside.
  3. When cool enough to handle peel the potatoes, cut each in half and then in quarters.
  4. Place the potatoes on a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil and sea salt and black pepper to taste. Coat the potatoes well all over.
  5. Put the potatoes in the oven on the upper rack. Roast until the potatoes, turning them once until they are crispy and very light brown, about 25 minutes. Remove the potatoes from oven and set aside.
  6. Finely chop 2 garlic cloves, the leaves of 2 rosemary branches and the anchovy. Put the mixture in a bowl. Add the vinegar and sea salt and black pepper to taste. Mix well to form a paste and set aside.
  7. Cut the breast into 4 similar size pieces. Thoroughly season each piece on both sides with salt and pepper. (Or substitute the lamb chops.)
  8. Put a cast iron pan or a skillet large enough to hold the lamb over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil to the pan.
  9. Smash 2 garlic cloves and 2 rosemary branches to the pan. Cook in the hot olive oil for a minute or two to infuse the oil with their flavor. Discard the garlic and rosemary.
  10. Put the lamb in the pan and cook to form a golden crust on both sides. Put the lamb in a baking dish.
  11. Add the white wine to the hot pan. Scrape up the brown bits from the bottom and let the wine simmer for a minute to burn off the alcohol.
  12. Pour the wine into the baking dish.
  13. Put the baking dish on the bottom shelf of the oven and roast the lamb until it is golden brown, about 90 minutes. (If using chops roast until they reach an internal temperature of 125 degrees.)
  14. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
  15. Remove the baking dish from the oven and cover the lamb on both sides with the rosemary paste. Add the potatoes to the pan.
  16. Return the baking dish and continue roasting until the lamb is fork tender. (If using chops until the internal temperature is 140 degrees.)
  17. Remove the lamb and potatoes to a serving platter. Skim off any excess fat from the pan juices and pour them over the lamb.
  18. Serve immediately.

 

A Pile of Chicken Cutlets

Crunchy tender chicken cutlets in a savory egg wash, breaded and fried
Crunchy tender chicken cutlets in a savory egg wash, breaded and fried

It started innocently enough. I had a bunch of stale bread so I decided to make breadcrumbs this morning.

I bought chicken cutlets at Little City to make Chicken Marsala today. But the fresh breadcrumbs won me over and I fried up chicken cutlets instead.

You can have these babies on your table in about 30 minutes. The crispy breadcrumbs give way to tender chicken flavored with pecorino and parsley in the egg wash.

I’m serving the cutlets simply with a wedge of lemon to squeeze on top or not and baby spinach sautéed in olive oil with garlic and sea salt. That’s tonight’s dinner.

Watch me make chicken cutlets from Naples in a North Beach cook-off with a chicken dish from Rome. Guess who won?

Need something for dessert? Here’s the tiramisu episode that we released yesterday morning.

Buon appetito!

 

A Pile of Chicken Cutlets
 
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Tender crunchy chicken cutlets in a savory eggwash, coated with breadcrumbs and fried
Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound chicken scallopine, pounded thin
  • 4 eggs
  • ¼ cup grated pecorino romano
  • 2 tablespoons fresh flat parsley, minced
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil (or your favorite)
Instructions
  1. Place the flour and the breadcrumbs on separate large plates or in bowls.
  2. Place the eggs in a bowl and beat well.
  3. Add the pecorino, parsley, salt and pepper and mix well.
  4. Dredge the cutlets in flour. Shake off excess.
  5. Dip the floured cutlet in the egg-wash to coat well. Drain briefly.
  6. Put the egg-washed cutlet on the breadcrumbs. Press with your fingers to adhere the breadcrumbs.
  7. Turn the cutlet over to coat with breadcrumbs. Press with your fingers to adhere the breadcrumbs.
  8. Repeat to ensure you have a good breadcrumb coating all over the cutlet. Set the breaded cutlets aside.
  9. Put both oils in a cast-iron pan or a skillet and heat until the oil ripples.
  10. Fry the cutlet on each side until they breadcrumbs are golden brown.
  11. Drain well on paper towel.
  12. Serve warm with a wedge of lemon.

 

Tiramisu is an Easy Pick-me-Up

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Sweet, dark chocolate, strong, bitter espresso and a hit of syrupy marsala wine make tiramisu a perfect pick me up.
Sweet, dark chocolate, strong, bitter espresso and a hit of syrupy marsala wine make tiramisu a perfect pick me up.

Want a “pick-me-up”? That’s the meaning of tiramisu and with its potent hits of espresso and alcohol, it is the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

Tiramisu was one of the favorite dolci at my Providence restaurant back in the 80s. I hope you like it too. The hardest part of making it is beating the egg yolks and whipping the whites.

Just dip savoiardi (Italian lady-fingers) in strong espresso laced with Marsala wine and line them in a casserole dish. Top with a layer of fluffy mascarpone (an Italian “cream cheese”) enriched by bright yellow yolks and lightened by whipped egg whites that are as airy as clouds. Repeat and dust the top with bittersweet cocoa powder. Add a few curls of dark chocolate to take it over the top. Then comes the best part, the eating!

Tiramisu is a full flavor palette. The strong espresso and fortified Marsala wine permeate the savoiardi and give them a not too sweet cake texture. The light, sweet mascarpone cream melts in your mouth. The cocoa and nutty dark chocolate caps it all off. Enjoy all the flavors that come together in every single bite.

And if you like this one, also be sure to check out my recipes for torta di riso and panettone bread pudding.

Buon appetito!

Recipe note: I use raw eggs, the traditional tiramisu ingredient, from a local organic producer just across the Golden Gate Bridge in Petaluma. Just in case I soak the eggs in bleach before using them to minimize any possible contamination. I haven’t had a problem with raw eggs in the decades that I’ve made tiramisu this way. Read the raw egg notice under the recipe. And if you don’t want to use raw eggs there’s a substitute recipe for the mascarpone cream filling there too.

Tiramisu
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
  • 1 package savoiardi (lady finger cookies)
For the Dipping Liquid
  • 2 cups espresso
  • 3 tablespoons dry Marsala
For the Cream
  • 6 eggs
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 pound mascarpone
  • cocoa for dusting
  • chocolate for shavings on top
Instructions
  1. Put the espresso and Marsala in a shallow bowl and set aside.
  2. Separate the eggs. Put the yolks in one bowl and the whites in another.
  3. Add the sugar to the yolks. Using a hand mixer beat the yolks and sugar together until smooth and pale yellow.
  4. Add the mascarpone and with a rubber spatula mix it into the yolks until well blended.
  5. Whip the whites to a stiff peak.
  6. Add ⅓ of the egg whites to the mascarpone mixture and gently stir several times to lighten the mixture.
  7. Add the rest of the whites to the mascarpone mixture and mix until the cream is fluffly and smooth.
  8. Dip the lady fingers in the espresso mixture and place them in a single layer in a casserole dish. Continue until the bottom of the dish is covered.
  9. Spread one half of the mascarpone cream evenly over the lady fingers.
  10. Make another layer of lady fingers dipped in the espresso mixture and cover evenly with the remaining mascarpone cream.
  11. Cover the pan dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Overnight is best.
  12. Dust the top with cocoa and some shaved dark chocolate.
  13. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Use caution in consuming raw eggs due to the risk of salmonella or other food-borne illness. To reduce this risk use only fresh, properly refrigerated organic, clean grade A or AA eggs with intact shells, and avoid contact between the yolks or whites and the shell. I soak the eggs in bleach and water, wash them under running water and dry them well before using.

If you don’t want to use raw eggs, here’s a recipe for the mascarpone cream filling. Use the recipe above to make the tiramisu, just substitute this filling for the one with raw egg.

Combine 6 egg yolks and 1 cup of sugar in the top of a double boiler, over boiling water. Reduce heat to low, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the bowl from the heat and whip the yolks until thick and lemon colored. Add 1 pound mascarpone to whipped yolks, beat until combined. In a separate bowl, whip 2 cups of cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold the whipped cream in the mascarpone mixture and set aside.

Baby Artichokes: Eat the Whole Thing

Crispy baby artichokes
Crispy baby artichokes

Baby artichokes are in the market at a very attractive price. I bought some to create a crispy delight.

Be sure to buy plenty. This is another one of those treats that gets poached off the stove by family and friends before the baby artichokes even make it to the table.

Baby artichokes are super easy to clean and cook. Best of all you can eat the whole thing. There’s no prickly choke to get rid of.

Crispy golden-brown leaves add a nutty note to the creamy artichoke heart. A simple way to savor the essence of the artichoke without breaking a sweat.

Serve the baby artichokes as part of an antipasto course or as a side for meat or poultry.

Want more? Watch me make stuffed artichokes in the style of the ghetto in Rome.

Buon appetito!

Baby Artichokes: Eat the Whole Thing
 
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Enjoy baby artichokes in way less than 30 minutes.
Author:
Recipe type: Appetiser
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 12 baby artichokes
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
Instructions
  1. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a bowl of water.
  2. Cut off the discolored bottom of the stem. Trim any dark green skin from the bottom of the stem.
  3. Pull off the dark outer leaves until the tender yellow and pale green leaves appear.
  4. Cut off the tip of the artichoke at the line separating the dark from the pale part of the leaf.
  5. Put the cleaned artichoke in the acidulated water.
  6. Put on a pot of water to boil over high heat. Cook the artichokes until knife tender.
  7. When cool enough to handle, cut the artichokes in half length-wise.
  8. Put the olive oil in a cast iron or saute pan. When the oil starts to ripple cook the artichokes flat side down until golden brown.
  9. Remove the artichokes to a serving plate crispy flat side up and sprinkle with sea salt with some lemon wedges scattered around.
  10. Serve immediately or at room temperature.