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Friday, December 10, 2010


At the end of dinner at the anarchist’s in Siracusa, I asked the woman at the counter - the anarchette??? - where to go in town for good cannoli.

“There’s a fair one on the square, but if you really want a good one, you have to head up into the hills - to Palazzolo Acreide, but they’ll be closed now. It’s too late.”

We went to the piazza and ‘fair’ in this case was more than enough. We’re thrilled to be rediscovering the island, the architecture and the people. The Motherland.

The next day, Lex and I head to see winemaker Salvo Foti in Chiaramonte Gulfi, then head up and away into the hills and windmills, the sheep and the sunset. We start leaning vaguely toward home when a roadsign indicates “Palazzolo A.”

“That’s where the cannoli is!” I shout. I may have a memory like a sieve, but not when a town shares a name with one of my favorite Sicilian pastry chefs and gelato makers, Santi Palazzolo.

Had I not turned, Lex might have staged a putsch.

Palazzolo Acreide is an off-the-track find, cannoli or no. We hop a fence to explore the ruins of a hilltop castle, then wander between the town’s four gem-like churches.

Everyone in town knows that Corsino is the place for cannoli and there’s a bit of a momentary panic when it appears they’re out of ricotta filling. My word.

Instead, we get two cannoli on one tiny plate and have a seat outside. They’re wonderfully un-made-up - no chocolate bits, no candied fruit just the ricotta, just the shell and a dusting of powdered sugar - the Tilda Swinton of cannoli.

The filling’s perfect - the silky texture contrasting with the punch of good ricotta. Lexy may have had a life-changing experience at Bonajauto but isn’t above devouring this one. She does her little ‘pure pleasure’ gesture, eyes closed, huge smile, head thrown back a little, clapping her wrists together.

There we are again, grinning our way through another town. We sit on the stairs above the main square and watch a wedding party stroll by - photos of the bride and groom taken between the columns in the arcade of an old building.

In front of another church hidden up a set of stairs, Lex twirls and smiles. The moon comes up full and orange above the city.

Corsino - MAP
Via Nazionale, 2
Palazzolo Acreide
+39 0931 875533

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010


Upon Lexy’s arrival, I looked to convert her as quickly as possible. Either that, or I just didn’t want to eat cannoli alone.

Pierpaolo Ruta, who owns and runs Modica’s venerable Antica Dolceria Bonajuto came out to say hello and had some very good news in the form of a question.

“How did you know to arrive when the cannoli shells are still warm?”

My knees buckled a bit and I put two fingers in the air as the form of an across-the-room order.

The shells were, indeed, still warm.

In a form of full disclosure, I know Pierpaolo, who put the cannoli in our hands so I’ll leave any sort of review to Lexy…

… A few nights after visiting Bonajuto, we drove toward Ragusa, the highway crossing a towering bridge with a jaw-dropping view of Modica with its homes and churches clinging to the valley wall. I expected a gasp from Lexy and a nostalgic cry of the city’s name.

Instead, three syllables, the cry of a convert: “Ca-noooo-liiiii!”

Antica Dolceria Bonajuto - MAP
Corso Umberto I, 159

+39 0932 941225

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Leave the gun.

Somewhere along the line, Sicily’s signature dessert must have won an award for the unhealthiest dessert imaginable. Looking conspicuously like a clogged artery, the best cannoli here combine large amounts of cheese, sugar, eggs and … pork fat.

Crunch into a good one, however, and the flavors and textures of the crisp shell surrounding the filling of subtly sweetened fresh ricotta cheese and all those bad thoughts disappear quickly.

It’s heaven in a tube.

Walk into Modica’s Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, one of Italy’s best-known chocolatiers, and the smell is heady.

You also need to be lucky enough to know that this is where some of Sicily’s best cannoli are created. Despite the chocolate and pastries in a glass box at the counter, cannoli are not on display, and that’s one of the secrets that Pierpaolo Ruta, the latest in a long, crooked family line of chocolatiers that spans back to 1880, claims isn’t a secret.

“We really don’t have any secrets,” he said. Then he listed some. Who knows? Perhaps he considered them tricks.

Pierpaolo explains a couple like using red wine in the tube dough to give it more color and pushing the fresh ricotta through a sieve to give the filling an extra-creamy texture.

Ruta then sets a plate of snow-white pork fat under my nose.

“This is the smell of my grandfather,” he says.

I raise my eyebrow, quietly praying for some sort of cross-cultural miscommunication.

“When I think of my grandfather, I think of two smells: chocolate and cannoli.”

He boils the cannoli smell down to the scent of the vanilla they put in the filling and the frying oil for the shell. Plus, here in the land where butter is a bit of an oddity, some places will fold small amounts of it into the crust dough.

Ruta calls into the kitchen behind the shop and asks for a cannoli, giving me the feeling I’m getting something that’s not on the menu at a restaurant.

Here, and at any self-respecting cannoli maker, they’re made to order. This ensures that the moisture doesn’t migrate from the filling (where you want it) to the shell (where you don’t). Some places get around the problem by coating the inside of the tube with chocolate and busy places can rely on fast turnover to keep things relatively crunchy. For orders that aren’t for immediate consumption, Bonajuto customers are sent away with a box of shells and a bag of filling.

As for the house preference for frying oil, knock it only after trying it. You may find yourself making more space for pork products on your dessert plate.

This is Joe Ray reporting from the Motherland.

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