Dessert Island

Italy is famed the world over for its comfort food and family-style feasts that use local ingredients like tomatoes and herbs to create a rustic local cuisine. But its desserts are no different, and regional lemons and almonds are staples in some of the world’s favorite sweetmeats.

Sicily in particular has always had a sweet tooth. The Greeks who first colonized the land made pastries with almonds and honey. In the early Middle Ages, Arabs introduced sugarcane, and with it, a passion for sherbets and ices. The Spanish introduced cacao paste from the New World. And the roots of almond paste marzipan fruits trace their origins back to the convent of Martorana, as nuns often supplemented their income by baking, especially for springtime festivals and Easter rituals.

Grand Circle Travel is proud to offer an in-depth taste of this fascinating region as part of our Sicily vacation, exploring Palermo, Agrigento, and Taormina, where our local Program Directors Gabriella Pestigiacomo and Daniel Mendola shared some of their favorite recipes.


Cannoli Siciliani (Sicilian cannoli)

The fried-shell and sweet-cheese-filled cannoli is one of the most well-known Italian desserts. The singular cannolo means “little reed” in Latin, though because they were traditionally prepared during Carnevale season, it is also believed they were made as a symbol of male fertility. Either way, these tubes of fried dough that come in many sizes and their sweet, creamy filling are a favorite the world over.

Ingredients:

For cannoli:
3 1/2 cups durum wheat flour
4 egg yolks
2 egg whites
¾ cup shortening
½ glass white wine
1/3 cup sugar
Vanilla extract
Oil for frying

For filling:
2 lbs sheep’s milk ricotta cheese (cow's milk ricotta cheese can be substituted)
1 ½ cups superfine sugar
Powdered sugar


Preparation:

  1. Mix flour, egg yolks, egg whites, shortening, sugar, white wine, and vanilla extract to a smooth dough.
  2. Roll thinly on a floured surface and cut out circles with a 10 centimeter-wide glass or round cutter.
  3. Wrap the circles around a wooden dowel or metal cannoli molds.
  4. Fry the cannoli shell in boiling oil until golden brown, letting them dry on paper towels or a brown paper bag.
  5. Combine the ricotta and sugar.
  6. Fill the cannoli using a pastry bag or plastic zip-top bag with a corner trimmed to pipe in filling.
  7. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Gelo di limoni e Melissa (Lemon and lemon balm jelly)

As lemons are a big crop for Sicilians, desserts and main courses made from the fruit are a staple. Lemon balm jelly has bright citrus flavor and is great on toast, scones, or anyplace else you prefer to eat jelly or jam.

Ingredients:

2 cups water
Peel of one lemon
8 lemon balm leaves
¼ cup cornflour
2/3 cup sugar


Preparation:

  1. Peel the lemon, taking care to discard the pith.
  2. Place the peel in a saucepan with water and the lemon balm leaves.
  3. Thoroughly mix the cornflour and sugar and add to the liquid.
  4. Place on the stove and stir continuously until thickened, at medium heat.
  5. Stir for one more minute after the liquid boils, then turn off.
  6. Pour the mixture into molds, allow to cool and refrigerate for two hours before serving.

Dolcetti di pasta di mandorle (Almond biscuits)

Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups raw almonds
2 1/3 cups sugar
½ cup water
A little less than ½ cup flour


Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Finely chop the almonds to a powder. Set aside.
  3. Dissolve the sugar in ½ cup water over a low heat, stirring constantly.
  4. As soon as the sugar begins to “thread,” add the ground almonds, then the flour.
  5. Stir over a low heat until firm. When almost hard, the dough will no longer stick to the pan.
  6. Allow the dough to cool and then knead lightly into the desired shape using a pastry bag and tip.
  7. Bake the biscuits until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.