Fried pastry dough and sweetened ricotta cream topped at each end typically with semi-sweet morsels or crushed pistachios, and you have the quintessential Italian dessert: cannoli.
With origins in Sicily, the cannoli gained popularity in America during the early 1900s with the influx of Italian immigrants. Since then, you’ll find that cannoli cream recipes differ slightly from place to place. The reason? Not all ingredients were available in the US at the time, so liberties were taken when making the famed dessert. Ricotta filling is standard. Some creams include cinnamon, nutmeg or dashes of dessert liqueurs. You might see some topped at the ends with candied orange peel or pistachios. But seemingly everyone has a secret ingredient.
In Westchester, cannoli are ubiquitous at bakeries, restaurants, delis, and Italian specialty stores. One of those is Casa d’Italia Sandwich Shoppe in Harrison, whose owners, Lucy and Steve Selvaggio, grew up on Arthur Avenue. They use a classic recipe of ricotta, sugar, chocolate chips, and a vanila-extract blend that’s in a mysterious eyedropper vial marked with white tape. They believe in an old-school method to prevent a soggy pastry shell. “Ours are filled to order,” Lucy says. “Not many places do it, as they can’t be bothered.”
Ever wonder where those magical cylindrical shells come from? Many places opt to skip the labor-intensive process of mixing, rolling, resting, and deep-frying, so they buy the shells from a familiar name: Artuso Pastry. With bakeries on Arthur Avenue (open since 1946) and in Mamaroneck, Artuso cranks out more than one million cannoli shells per month and is one of the largest shell manufacturers in the nation. Their factory in Mount Vernon also produces the cream for those shells. CEO Anthony Artuso Jr. says their filling is traditional. “It’s ricotta, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla extract,” he says. “There are other ingredients, but they’re family secrets.”
What’s less of a secret is that you’re no doubt salivating for a cannoli right now. Westchester’s got some excellent ones, so go treat yourself!
Making sfogliatella is an intimidating, labor-intensive task for most, but Casa d’Italia bakes this “other” popular Italian pastry all year. The flaky favorite is filled with ricotta and candied citrus and is best eaten fresh out of the oven — or warmed up — with a blizzard-like dusting of powdered sugar.