This is a time that makes me reflect on the many ‘mothers’ I have known. And I use the word ‘mother’ in a very broad sense. One does not have to give birth to be a mother. I have been ‘mothered’ by so many incredible women over the years. I think of the many ‘nannies’ who have cleaned my scraped knees, whoshared a bowl of porridge on the back step and shown me how to embroider on a Sunday afternoon.
I think of my friends mothers who have enveloped me with big mamma hugs, offered me tissues and helped me through the heartache of loves lost. I think of my dearest mum whose lap I long for so often. Even as an adult and a mother myself I would sometimes phone my mum to come over so I could lay with my head in her warm lap. She could take a headache away with a single caress and she really did understand me.
I think of my dear mother in law whose generosity of spirit and very special thirst for life never ceased to inspire me. She spent hours in her tiny little kitchen with me teaching me to cook. How I must have frustrated her with my never ending questions. As we cooked she taught me to speak Italian and we laughed a lot at my clumsy ways.
I remember taking my Mum, Granny Annie and Mum-in-law, Nonna Lily to dinner at the Roma Revolving and then on to watch the Bolshoi Ballet dance Swan lake at the Playhouse. My mum was a ballet dancer in her youth and as a consequence of spending half of her life in point shoes she could hardly even walk; Nonna with her two bionic hips needed the aid of a walking stick; Mum could not speak a word of Italian and Nonna, no English. I had to enlist the aid of my friend Karmie to manage them both. Traffic had to be stopped outside the Playhouse, for these two Diva’s were not going to walk all the way from the Parkade. They sat through the performance chatting away, Nonna in Italian and my mum, in English and for some reason seemed to understand each other perfectly! Oh, what a special night we had.
At this time of the year I remember those days when Max and Daniele were little dudes and would arrive in my bedroom, faces beaming with pride, clutching a tray of ‘Scambled Eggs Mum!” and hand made cards with precious words of love and affection scribbled in multi coloured crayon. I miss that beautiful smell of freshly shampooed hair and their flannel jamies as they huddled with me in my bed and proudly ate the ‘scambled’ eggs with me. I can honestly say that my children are my greatest achievement of my life and I am deeply grateful for the honour of being their mum.
Both my mum and Nonna Lilly have passed on but if they were here today I would get into my kitchen and with lots of love in my heart I would make them a beautiful tray of these Cannoli to celebrate Mother’s Day.
These crunchy tubes of fried sweet pasta filled with a ricotta cream that oozes with the flavours and aromas of Christmas make me sigh with satisfaction. Cannoli are most definitely Italy’s answer to the mighty macaroon of France and can be filled with both sweet and savoury fillings. The Cannolo is native to Sicily and must surely be closely related to the arrival of the Arabs in the South of Italy. Whereas daily food in Sicily reflects the ‘cucina povera’ fashion, Cannoli put on their high heels, red lipstick and parade down the promenade. No expense is spared when it come to pastries in Italy and every pasticceria sells its own special Cannoli filled with their signature filling.
I like this particular recipe as it has no lard in the pastry, which means its a bit lighter and easier on the hips. I get 20 cannoli out of this quantity but this can vary dependant on the size of your cannoli. In Italy you can buy metal tubes to roll your cannoli around for the frying stage. Seeing as I don’t have any of these tubes I went the ‘really ancient’ route of using wood. I purchased an unpainted wooden broom stick from our local hardware store and cut it up into 10cm lengths. They work just fine and can be used again and again! You can also use cannoli pasta shells as moulds.
I make all 20 cannoli shells but have only ever filled 12 at a time. The shells keep perfectly well in a air tight container for use up to 2 weeks later. Once the cannoli are filled with the Ricotta – you need to eat them as the pastry will go soft after about 10 hours. So I only use 500g of ricotta to fill 12 but keep the rest of the filling ingredients as per the recipe.
For the Pastry
3 cups SASKO flour
3 egg yolks
1tsp grated lemon rind
3Tbs Marsala – this can be substituted with port
1 egg white
sunflower or oil for deep frying
For the Cannoli Filling
1kg ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
6 x 5cm cm cinnamon sticks/ quills
2 vanilla pods – split open and the seeds removed with the back of a knife
1tsp grated lemon rind – I used the rind of a whole small lemon
1/4 cup mixed peel
1/4 cup chopped glacee cherries
1 ring of glacee pineapple
icing sugar for coating
60g grated dark hazel nut chocolate – or just plain dark chocolate grated, you could even use crushed nuts instead if you don’t fancy chocolate
Sieve 1 cup of Sasko’s always soft and fluffy flour into your mixer bowl, add the egg yolks and mix for 30 seconds to achieve a crumb like texture
cover the bowl with plastic wrap and regrigerate this mixture for 2 hours
Remove from the fridge and add the ramaining sifted flour, lightly beaten egg, lemon rind and marsala.
Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface, bring it together and knead it for 10 to 15 minutes
Cover in cling wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
(I refrigerated my dough over night …. and it was fine, in fact it was beautifully relaxed)
Cut the dough into 4 pieces , roll out the dough into paper thin sheets. It is really important to roll the dough very thinly as you want thin crunchy cannoli. If the dough is too thick it doesn’t crisp up nicely.
I roll each piece through the machine on the largest setting three times, folding it it on itself twice and repeating three times
then I continue to roll each piece through to setting
No 7 which is paper thin
Using a cookie cutter, or a cup cut circles of the dough and wrap each circle around a wooden mould overlapping the ends and glue it closed with a little egg white.
Make sure not to get the egg white on your mould otherwise it will stick and be difficult to remove.
Heat a pot of sunflower oil to boiling point, and fry four cannoli at a time.
Turn the cannoli in the oil so that they cook evenly all round.
Fry until they are golden brown then remove onto kitchen paper to drain off the oil.
While the cannoli are still hot gently pull them off the wooden mould and place onto kitchen paper to cool.
Once you have cooked all of the cannoli – return them to the oil and fry them again for 1 minute – this ensures that the pastry has the required crunch when you bit into it.
For the Filling
Place the ricotta cheese into your mixer bowl, add the sifted icing sugar and beat on high for at least 5 minutes. It’s quite amazing as the curdy cheese turn silken and smooth.
Using either a grinder or a blender – place the cinammon sticks in your blender and crush them to a powder. This will take no longer than two minutes.
Add the ground cinammon, lemon zest, vanilla beans, chopped cherries, chopped glacee pineapple and mixed fruit to the ricotta cheese and mix again, at high speed for 4 minutes.
Spoon the filling into a piping bag and pipe into each cannolo.
Roll each cannolo in sifted icing sugar and dip each end into the grated dark chocolate.
Place each cannolo in a cupcake cup.
Serve with an ice cold glass of Asti Spumante or maybe even a nice Viognier
or an espresso caffe.
And lots of love!
Happy Mother’s Day to you all.
May your day be filled with lots of love
….. and Cannoli Siciliani!