You delightful Italian pastry.
I had my first cannoli when I was nine years old and I remember it well. We were at my aunt and uncle's house in New Jersey for a party, although I can't remember the reason for the celebration. It was also the weekend I discovered shellfish was my kryptonite.
After a trip to the ER, a shot of epinephrine and a myriad of tests, we returned to my aunt's house, tired and hungry. I was greeted at the door by a kind, older woman with a warm smile and shaky hands. She wrapped an arm around my shoulder, muttered something reassuring and offered me a cannoli. I accepted, even thought I didn't know what on Earth a cannoli was. Don't worry. This isn't going to turn into a creepy pasta story. She was my aunt's Italian neighbour.
My mom made me a sandwich, a small dessert plate and settled me into the TV room. I picked at the sandwich, but oogled the desserts, knowing full well my Mom would tell me off if I didn't eat the good stuff first, allergy episode or not. I was most intrigued with this "cannoli". I stared it down as if I was waiting for it to do a trick. I finally picked it up, sniffed it, and tested it by taking the smallest amount my tongue could gather. Not bad. I took a bigger bite. Good. Really good. I finally went in for the kill. I licked the filling clean and nibbled the crunchy cookie shell as bits fell all over my shirt and the couch. I had never had anything so euphoric. I snuck out of the TV room to grab two more from the dessert table. The elderly woman saw me make the grab as she was clearing up dirty dishes from the table and winked at me. I put my head down and hightailed it back to watch "Who's The Boss".
Cannoli and I didn't become reacquainted until I was in my late teens, working for a fine dining restaurant. I loved when customers ordered them because I always made one for myself to pick at, even though I would have gotten my ass chewed out by the chef for "eating the profits" had he caught me. There was something about them I could not get enough of.
Fast forward to present day. Nothing's changed. I still love cannoli.
I was super excited when I finally got my hands on a copy of Emily Richards' cookbook, Per La Famiglia: Memories and Recipes of Southern Italian Home Cooking. I slowly flipped though the pages, my salivary glands firing on all cylinders with each recipe and photo, when I landed on page 44 - a lovely cannoli recipe. A lovely, proper, Italian cannoli recipe (full recipe at the bottom of this post, friends!) To be honest, I'm not convinced a bad cannoli recipe even exists, but there's something comforting and authentic about an Italian making Italian desserts. Emily had suddenly become one of my favourite people.
I had the pleasure of meeting Emily several years ago at a food conference and was immediately drawn to her. We were discussing food trends in a small group and I was in awe of her wealth of food knowledge. I love that she takes food seriously, but not too seriously. And the more you get to know her, the more you want to be around her.
Per La Famiglia, which simply translates to "for the family" in Italian, is a cookbook that is just that. For the family. Not only does it deserve a place in your cookbook collection, but it demands to be bookmarked with sticky flags and stained with tomato splatters and olive oil fingerprints. I've made about seven or eight recipes from this book thus far and my kids, some of the pickiest eaters on the planet, ate everything I made. Everything. Emily's Fried Calzone, Baked Pasta with Sausage and Ricotta, and Nonna Ortenzia's Meatballs scored big points with them.
What I love most about this cookbook is that the recipes are easy to make. In fact, it saved dinner many nights for us, especially those during the week where the hours are quickly eaten up by skating practice, dance class, or youth group. Recipes like her Slow Cooker Lasagne are perfect for such evenings. Take note that some recipes do require a bit more time to prepare, like the Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi, but it is well worth the effort. I promise. I also adore that many of her recipes call for minimum ingredients. It doesn't get any better than that. (Should you have a go at making her gnocchi - and I truly hope you do, the Easy Gorgonzola Cheese Sauce is HEAVENLY!)
Earlier this month, several food bloggers and I were invited over to Emily's house to make Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi. Her Mom and Dad also joined us and showed us how to make sausage (both recipes are in the book). It was incredible to get my hands dirty and see how a real working Italian kitchen gets the job done. And lunch was most exceptional.
If you love Italian, this cookbook is for you. Simple, hearty, delicious recipes you'll go back to time and time again. There is honestly something for every palate and every occasion in this book.
But don't just take my word for it. Please be sure to check out these very talented Canadian bloggers as they share their experiences with Per La Famiglia cookbook. Grab a tissue and get ready to drool.
Amanda of Once Upon A Recipe made Balsamic Roasted Pear Wedges with Prosciutto
Brittany of My Daily Randomness made Tiramisu
Carole of Yum Yum Factor made Pickled Eggplant
Chrissie of The Busy Baker made Amaretti Cookies
Christina of Strawberries For Supper made Baked Pasta with Sausage and Ricotta
Gwen of Devour and Conquer made Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Sage Butter
Heather of The Tasty Gardener made Squash and Hazelnut Rotelle/Polenta with Sausage and Rapini
Julie of Dinner With Julie made Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi
Kelly of kellyneil.com made Roasted Tomatoes
Kristy of She Eats made Egg and Raisin Bread
Libby of Libby Roach Photography made Nonna Ortenzia's Meatballs
Nancy of Gotta Get Baked made Hazelnut Chocolate Filled Cookies
Nicole of Culinary Cool made Spinach Ricotta Cannelloni
Tiffany of Eating Niagara made Potato Doughnuts
We're also giving one lucky winner the chance to win a copy of Per La Famiglia cookbook signed by Emily along with a set of three Microplane Elite Graters/Zesters (fine, coarse, and star blades) and a gnocchi board!
All you have to do is answer this one question in the comments below: What's your favourite Italian dish?
Mangia con gusto, amici! (Cannoli recipe below)
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(Recipe printed in full with permission from Whitecap Books)
1½ cups smooth ricotta cheese
½ cup plus 2 teaspoons powdered sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup mini chocolate chips
18-24 cannoli shells
18-24 maraschino cherry halves (optional)
½ cup pistachios, chipped coarsely (optional)
In a large bowl, stir together ricotta cheese and ½ cup icing sugar until combined. Stir in chocolate chips and vanilla. Pipe or spoon ricotta mixture into shells. Place one maraschino cherry half on each end, if using. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour over overnight. Sprinkle with remaining icing sugar before serving.
TIPS I found helpful:
* Drain ricotta cheese using a fine mesh sieve if you prefer your ricotta filling to be a bit on the drier side (like I do).
* Use store bought cannoli shells for easy preparation. Emily suggests that you buy shells sold in a single layer for less breakage. If you can't find them, ask the bakery section at your local grocery store or a specialty food store. Many carry and sell them in their display case for a small fee.
*Use a large, pastry bag with a star tip to add design while piping.
* Filled cannoli shells will stay crunchy for at least 12 hours. The longer they stay refrigerated past this point, the softer they will become. I recommend only filling the shells you know you are going to use and keeping unused shells in an airtight container. Filling will keep nicely for several days in the pastry bag, as long as it's also tightly covered and refrigerated. Cover tip with some plastic wrap to prevent crusting or drying out.
* Chopped pistachios are fantastic alternative or addition to maraschino cherries. They add texture and crunch.
Dislosure: I was given a complimentary copy of this cookbook by the lovely folks over at Whitecap Books. I was not asked to write this review nor am I being compensated for doing so. As anything and everything I review, all opinions and views are completely my own. I will never endorse anything I don't love, use, or believe in and will always give my honest opinion regardless.