Sicily is such a beautiful place with deep blue seas and fleecy clouds The surf pounds against the beaches, and the mainland of Italy is just across the Straits. The island traces its history back to Greek times when Syracuse was one of the great city states. Since then it has had a tumultuous history as its own country as well as under the dominance of many other countries and empires including the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Turks, Arabs, and Italy.
That rich history has produced amazing archeology, architecture, food, and customs. The beautiful sunlight has produced a sunny population that seems to take everything in stride.
In the USA, many think of Sicily as the home of the Godfather. That stereotype annoys the locals. At the same time, they often feel obliged to mention it – mostly so they can dispel the myth.
Messina is the port city at the straits, and it is filled with beautiful old buildings and famous churches. Undoubtedly, one could spend days exploring, but the highlight of our trip was a drive along the coast and up a narrow winding road to the town of Taormina. The port is beautiful. with the Stele of the Madonna greeting and saying farewell to vessels as well as wishing a blessing for the city and for all sailors. The mainland of Italy is just across the Strait of Messala which is 1.9 miles across at its closest point and 3.2 miles from Messala to the mainland. Plans to build the world’s longest sing-span suspension bridge are well along.
Taormina has been a tourist destination since Grecian times. The town looks down on the coastline far below, and in the distance, clouds play around the summit of Mount Etna. The air is clear and sunny, and the town streets are lined with interesting shops, ancient palaces, and vendors of all kinds.
One of the required visits is the Greek amphitheater on a hill overlooking the town. The walk is steep but not very long. It is well worth it. The ruin is very well-preserved, and the views from its upper heights are spectacular. It is impossible to visit without thinking of the countless people who have been here before you.
After the visit, the walk back down the hill leaves most tourists either hungry, thirsty, or both. There are plenty of vendors in little stalls to accommodate, and the choices seem limitless, ranging from soft drinks to pasta.
Among the most popular items for sale are the cannoli. There are different sizes and different flavors, and they make great treats to enjoy on the stroll back to the center of the town. The recipe that follows is my take on the pistachio cannoli that we bought on our stroll down the hillside. To make your own, you will need some special aluminum cannoli molds for shaping the shells. Molds should be easily available at a well-stocked kitchen store. A 4 inch cutter is also handy. You may find a nest of cutters of different sizes another useful purchase.
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon cocoa
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons limoncello or other citrus-flavored liqueur
- 2 teaspoons madeira
- 1 egg white whipped lightly until it is slightly foamy
- In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, sugar, and cocoa.
- Cut in the butter with a pastry blender so that the mixture resembles coarse meal
- Add the liqueur and wine and combine with a fork until the mixture comes together as a firm ball
- Wrap the ball of dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more.
- Divide the dough in half, and roll out each half on a lightly floured surface to about 1/16th inch thick and large enough to cut out 4 4 inch circles using a cookie cutter or a cardboard circle as a template.
- Using a rolling-pin, roll each circle into an oval.
- Wrap each oval around a cannolo mold, long side parallel to the mold. Seal the seam with a dab of the egg white.
- Fry each cannolo shell in a heavy pan containing about 2 inches of canola oil and pre-heated to 375°F, turning until the shell is well browned and crisp.
- Transfer to a pad of paper towels to let cool enough until you can easily remove the mold without burning your fingers.
- Continue to fry the shaped shells until they are all fried. Set in a dry place ready for filling.
- 8 ounces fresh ricotta
- ¼ cup baker’s sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup miniature chocolate chips + more to sprinkle on the filled cannoli
- ¼ cup ground unsalted pistachio nuts + more for dusting the fille cannoli
- In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients, mixing well.
- Transfer to quart-size zippered plastic bag and chill in the refrigerator until you are ready to fill the shells
- When you are ready, cut a ¼ inch corner off the plastic bag so that it can be used as a pastry bag
- Fill both ends of each cannolo. Dust with ground pistachios and sprinkle a few chocolate chips on each end
- Serve immediately so the cannoli don’t get soggy.