Forget Love - I'd rather fall in chocolate!
The first cannoli I ever had was at Villa Francesca in the North End of Boston. It was Fall of 1984, and I was a freshman in college. The North End, which is considered Boston's Little Italy, is a small (1/3 of a square mile) neighborhood, cut off from the rest of the city by an interstate. I lived in the Back Bay, but the North End was warmer, homier, and reminded me a little of Brooklyn. Down Hanover Street, there was one small shop after another with windows full of Italian pastries or cheeses. Fascinated, I stopped in one shop and watched as an artisan made beautiful, miniature, realistic looking fruit out of marzipan.
Inside, Villa Francesca was like no other restaurant I had ever been to. It was narrow, and the walls were bare brick, with little round tables draped with white cloth. It was charming with an air of romance, like a movie set from the '40's, where you might find Bogey and Bacall, or maybe Al Capone (no wait, that's Chicago). Billy Joel's "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" played in my head. The food was amazing, the best I'd ever had up to that time. The only thing missing was a hot date, (I was with my family-no offense, Mom) preferably a ringer for Oliver Martinez.
|My hot date..also born in '66. It was a good year.|
A waiter approached our table wheeling a silver cart topped with a pyramid of fresh cannoli shells. Taking a big white pastry bag, he filled the shells for us. Wow! I was hooked on their cool, creamy goodness. I brought 4 back to my dorm and guarded them with my life. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. When I saw the recipe for chocolate cannoli in the recent BHG Ultimate Italian publication, I had to make them.
I was fortunate in that my local market bakery was willing to sell me some empty shells, and they were GOOD. If you can get your hands on some shells, then putting the cannoli together is very easy. It took me ten minutes. The publication includes a recipe for homemade chocolate shells, but I did not want to share that with you without trying it out first, and I need to buy some cannoli cylinders before I can attempt them.
1 15-ounce carton ricotta cheese
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 rounded tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon finely shredded orange peel (not having an orange, I substituted 1/2 teaspoon Grand Marnier)
1/4 cup finely chopped dark or bittersweet chocolate.
10 cannoli shells (either packaged, or from your local baker
For the dark chocolate, I used Trader Joe's 85% cacao Chocolate Lover's chocolate. Instead of chopping it, I grated it on a microplane zester. In a medium bowl, stir together ricotta cheese, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and orange peel until almost smooth. Fold in chocolate. Cover; chill for 30 minutes. Spoon filling into a pastry bag with a large open star tip. You can find inexpensive disposable bags at most grocery stores now, and certainly at craft stores. I used a #32 tip. If you don't have, or have never used a pastry bag, don't sweat it. Fill a ziploc bag, cut a corner off and fill them using that. I've done it before. Dip the ends of the cannoli in mini chocolate chips. Still beautiful and tasty.