The legend of the cannolo’s invention has two versions that perfectly mirror each other, almost representing two extremes, which in a way meet and reveal two sides of the same coin. Let’s face it, thinking about it, who in the heck would have thought of filling an orange-scented case with a mixture of mousse-like ricotta combined with sugar? The cannolo is without doubt the fruit of female hands, of happenstance, of a wish to impress, of imaginative experimentation, far from prying eyes, just like someone preparing a magic potion…
According to the first version, the cannolo saw the light of day, in its fortunate formulation, during the Arab domination of Caltanisetta, where the Saracen Emir had a harem (the old Arabic name for the city, Kalt El Nissa, simply means the “Castle of women”). Here the women passed the time inventing sweets to delight the emir. In one of the many culinary experiments they tried to imitate an Arab sweet stuffed with ricotta, almonds and honey, which resembled the form of a banana. The cannolo was a successful tentative attempt.
The other legend also deals with the women of Caltanisetta, but this time it’s set in a convent. During one carnival, the sisters decided to invent a rich and ornate sweet, a baked flour case filled to the brim with sugared and sweetened ricotta: thus the cannolo was born. The ricotta is enriched with dots of colour, because as we all know, the Sicilian never skimps when it comes to patisserie, flaking on chips of chocolate and candied fruit.
And now to my version of the cannolo’s invention, in which the two legends meet. I’ve already mentioned it, because I think that the cannolo, being as good as it is, can only bring things together. When the Saracens left the island, many women from the harem, finally free, converted to Christianity and decided to end their days in a convent. At which point, however, the ex-concubines didn’t know how to gain the trust of their fellow sisters, owing to the many years they had fought to survive using their own charms. At the beginning living together wasn’t easy, due to their very distinct paths in life.
A further effort of understanding was required of the sisters. They had to open up, to reflect their feelings in those of the other women who had lived far from them. Yet that distance, one day, must have been bridged. In front of the ovens, kneading, mixing, sugaring, little by little, at first the questions were timid, then more brazen: “But what are you putting in the cannolo? And the ricotta, how are you working it?”. I think they found common ground exchanging recipes and little secrets, just like the perfect filling for a cannolo, which reaches its peak in spring: the grass grazed by the sheep becomes the key because in its scent and freshness, redolent of the fields and warming sun, resides the quality of the milk, the base for ricotta.