Monday, July 16, 2012

Italian/Sicilian Cannoli on the Freedom Trail, in Boston

I quickly stepped inside the brown-gray wooden home with diamond-shaped glass windows built in 1680, to stand in front of the small hearth and warm my hands after having walked for long out in the cold. I found fruit and bread on the table, which helped me feel welcome in the austere and humble abode. Paul Revere wasn't there, so he might have been showing people his engraving of the Boston Massacre, or maybe he left on an emergency horseride to send a message to John Hancock and Samuel Adams.
I was in the Paul Revere historical home in Boston. However, it is 2012, even if for a moment I almost believed I had travelled in time to 1775.
You might not associate cannolis with the Fourth of July, but in Boston there is definitely a geographical connection.Many advise to begin the freedom trail walk in this city, in Little Italy, or the North End, where the most popular dessert is the Sicilian cannolo or cannoli. This delectable dessert is satisfying thanks to its wholesome ricotta filling. Right next to this part of town, you will find Paul Revere's home (where he lived for more than 30 years), reminiscent of Shakespearean buildings. The community was predominantly Jewish and later Irish only a few years before the Italians became the largest group in the neighborhood in the 1900's; today they still constitute 40% of the population. 

History of the Cannoli
Cannoli comes from the word canna, which means reed, after the tubular shape. It originated in Palermo, Sicily, and was often eaten during Mardi Gras season, before Lent. Whereas some people believe that the pastry appeared during the Arab rule in Sicily (827-1091) and was thus an Arab confection, others declare that the dessert was created by nuns, in a convent in Palermo. Still others believe that it was an Arab confection served in harems, and taken to convents when some Muslim women converted to Catholicism. Many years later, when Italians who lived abroad weren't able to get ricotta easily, they sometimes placed a custard filling in cannoli instead.
Cannoli are eaten widely during the Italian summer feasts that take place in Boston. The largest Italian feast in New England, St. Anthony's Feast, takes place from August 23-25.
This pastry is golden in more ways than one--some people might even accept it as currency! On a wintry and windy night in March, I had a cannoli in a labelled box with me when I asked a Boston street vendor how much a hat would cost. "$5, but I would be willing to trade it for your cannoli!" the vendor grinned, eyeing the pastry.

Recipe (Italy the Beautiful Cookbook, Lorenza de Medici)
10 oz. ricotta
1 cup sugar
3 oz. chopped mixed candied fruit
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup white wine
2 tablespoons honey
pinch of salt 
1 egg
1 egg white
confectioner's sugar
Mix the ricotta, 1/2 cup of sugar, the candied peel, and place in the refrigerator.

Pour the wine into the flour in a bowl. Add honey, 1/2 cup sugar, salt, egg, and egg white. Knead and shape into a ball, and refrigerate. Roll dough out and cut into 4-inch squares. Wrap around the metal cannoli cylinders and seal them closed.

Fry the dough in the tubes until golden brown.

Remove from oil and slide the cannolis off the tubes. Place the ricotta filling in a pastry bag, and squeeze into the cannoli shells. Sprinkle the filled shells with powdered sugar and serve!
Italy the Beautiful Cookbook, Medici, Lorenza de; 1996. Sydney: Harper Collins.,bechamel-sauce-from-lorenza-de-medici.html

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