This month our tour through Sicily’s traditional food stops in Piana degli Albanesi, a town connected to Palermo thanks to our fleet.
Those who are passionate about sweets must have already guessed what we are going to talk about: Piana’s cannoli! Cannoli, a specialty of the whole island but local pride of Piana degli Albanesi, boast a centuries-old history whose real origins are cloaked in mystery.
As we have already discussed in other “stops” of our Gusti-Bus, the tradition of sweet ricotta derives directly from the Arab domination, therefore it is assumed that cannoli also draws its origins from the same era. Certainly there is already proof from around the year 70 BC, when Cicero himself says he tasted a cake with the appearance and filling similar to that of cannoli.
Tradition has it, with a hint of malice, that the shape of cannoli derives from a playful double meaning, reason for which it has long been considered the typical Carnival dessert. Nowadays it is found on our tables at any time of the year, but in particular between December and May, the best time for the production of sheep’s ricotta.
From province to province, Sicilian cannoli change slightly in their composition, but the bases remain the same: the zest, wrapped around a “cannello” (a metal cylinder) and fried, contains strong flavors such as cinnamon and bitter cocoa, while the ricotta is worked with sugar and sometimes topped with chocolate chips. What changes from area to area is the final garnish, which can range from candied fruit to pistachio grains or other types of dried fruit. The contemporary tradition also includes the variant with a chocolate coating of the zest, to keep the outside more fragrant.
The variant from Piana degli Albanesi, one of the most famous, is mainly characterized by its size (according to the recipe it should be at least triple the traditional version) and for the chocolate garnish and candied orange peel. But the real protagonist of Piana’s recipe is the ricotta, coming directly from the pastures of the area and processed in such a way as to have a consistency and a flavor that is still “raw” and genuine.