With Thanksgiving fast approaching, I must first admit that this most recent edition of Quarantine Kitchen was assembled much earlier this month when I wasn’t consumed with thoughts of pie crust, pumpkin puree, squash, and how to squeeze as much as possible in the fridge. I’d prefer to separate the pressure of baking a brand-new dessert from the stress of perfecting multiple pies in 24 hours.
That being said, this Sicilian menu wasn’t all that complicated, even after we ended up making a second, different dessert after the first failed. Homemade pesto sauce is actually very simple, and a more labor-intensive, but not overly intricate, dessert isn’t a bad way for two people to break up the quarantine weekend monotony.
While we’ve enjoyed trying take-out from new Milwaukee restaurants, to mix things up, we decided on a Quarantine Kitchen menu inspired by the trip to Sicily we were supposed to take back in June. I was especially eager to create a Sicilian meal after reading From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home by Tembi Locke earlier this year in anticipation of us actually stepping foot on the island for our final getaway before moving back to the US. Locke brought Sicily to life through her detailed descriptions of the land, traditions, and cuisine, and it was a joy to consume the delicious details of the cooking of Locke’s late Sicilian husband and mother-in-law. I was excited to find that she had included recipes at the end of her book and decided we should give her straight-forward recipe for Spaghetti con pesto alla Trapanese a try.
The Spaghetti con pesto alla Trapanese is a Sicilian Almond Pesto Pasta originating in the city of Trapani on Sicily. I appreciated how simple, ordinary ingredients can yield such a bold flavor while Dan appreciated that the recipe only required that garlic, almonds, olive oil, basil, tomatoes, salt, and pepper be combined in a blender before serving over spaghetti and topped with cheese. We opted out of making noodles from scratch this time but that did not make this main dish any less delicious.
On account of the easy pesto assembly, Dan had extra time to construct aperitifs for us to enjoy. I was hoping to locate a traditional Sicilian liqueur, Amaro Averna, but when I couldn’t find it at a grocery or liquor store, I settled on a Northern Italian liqueur – Disaronno Originale. The subtle almond taste of Disaronno is not at all the same as the more bitter amaro liqueur, but Dan concocted a delicious cocktail. It’s the effort that counts, right?
With little that could go wrong with our pasta, I decided to up the ante for dessert by selecting something I had never even seen or even heard of – Testa di Turco. Despite my unfamiliarity with this dessert, I decided to give it a try on account of it having originated in the medieval village of Castelbuono, located in the province of Palermo not far from Cefalù, which is a region we had planned to visit.
Recently we’ve been watching The Great British Bake Off and I’m always so impressed when the contestants manage to successfully create their showstoppers without ever having heard of the bake before. Well there is a reason (many reasons actually) they are on the show and I am not, and this is usually confirmed when I am attempting an unfamiliar Quarantine Kitchen dessert.
Sure, my Testa di Turco didn’t look terrible, and it was edible, but I would by no means consider it a success. I think the issue was that my dough was not malleable enough to roll-out and cut into very thin strips for frying and layering. Upon further investigation after things didn’t go as planned, I learned that there are actually two desserts that go by Testa di Turco. In some towns Testa di Turco is made as a baked cream-puff pastry covered with honey and filled with sweet ricotta or custard cream; in other places, it is made with layers of fried pastry that are interspersed with milk cream and abundant sprinkling of cinnamon. In both cases, it seems that the Testa di Turco, literally translated as Turkish Heads, is consumed during the Christmas and Carnival periods.
While our first dessert fell short of expectations, I give credit to Dan for nailing our pasta dish and then being willing to take on a second dessert attempt a couple weeks later. I guess I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse when I suggested we try creating cannoli, one of his favorite desserts. He is well on his way to mastering the iconic tiramisu, so the time felt right for us to try what is likely the other most famous Italian dessert. Cannoli, or cannolo if you’re talking about one, is a Sicilian dessert that means “little tube”, although they do range in size from mini to mighty.
I came across Nadia’s recipe for Sicilian Cannoli with Ricotta Filing on her blog, Mangia Bedda, and knew hers was the right one for us because she included plenty of photos, the directions were easy to follow, and she gives plenty of credit to her family’s Italian roots.
I am happy to report that Dan has retained his title as best bread kneader and I was especially thankful to be working as a team to roll out and cut the dough into circles quickly, the key to preventing the dough from drying out. An egg white sealed the edges of the dough on the cannoli molds and into the oil they went.
As first-time cannoli makers not wanting to fail at dessert yet again, I made sure we came prepared. Although I am pretty good at improvising, I decided that it was best to just purchase the metal cannoli molds used to shape the dough instead of trying to identify substitute tube-shaped items that may or may not withstand simmering frying oil. As suggested in Nadia’s recipe, I purchased two packs of four molds in order to both speed up the frying process and minimize the risk that I would become impatient waiting for the scalding hot shells to cool and then burn my fingers while removing the shells from the molds.
The easiest step of assembly was mixing powdered sugar, ricotta, and cinnamon together for the filling. When it came time to fill the cannoli, I decided that a reasonable substitution for a pastry bag and nozzle was a plastic sandwich bag with an opening cut at the bottom. With some chopped chocolate and pistachios dunked on the ends our cannoli were ready for taste testing. Filling the cannoli as you eat is a good idea since it prevents them from becoming soggy and you’re slowed down just enough that you’re less likely to grab them by the fistful.
All dishes, desserts, drinks, and days to completion considered, I would actually call our Sicilian meal a success! My Testa di Turco may not have turned out, but learning just how easy a Sicilian Almond Pesto Pasta is and that Cannoli isn’t all that complicated, especially when tackled by two people, was reassuring. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch an episode of The Great British Bake Off to get me pumped up for a marathon of Thanksgiving baking!