Discovering The Finest Cannoli In All Of Sicily
"Leave The Gun, Take The Cannoli"
I tried to preserve the shiny sheetmetal of the rented new Fiat Grande Punto by maneouvering the car between the hurtling Alonso/Massa/Raikkonnen wannabes that seem to pilot most of the cars in Sicily. The inhabitants of this Mediterranean island famous around the world for Mafia blood feuds show their most bloodthirsty characteristics not behind the lupara gun, but behind the wheel. To say that you're taking your life into your hands by driving in Sicily is a vast understatement.
In the car were my Mother, Aunt and Uncle, all native Sicilians who were brought up in the island capital Palermo then immigrated to the Americas. It was the first time in decades that they returned to their home city... and they didn't recognize it!
"No, you've got to turn left at the corner of Via Roma and Via Vittorio Emanuele!" my mom screamed in typical Sicilian exhuberance.
"I just did!" I whined.
"This isn't Via Roma!" she exclaimed in exasperation.
"It is in the 21st century!!!!" I cried.
They were seeking the genteel, luxurious, slow-paced city of their youth, not the current crumbling, filthy, vermin-ridden Calcutta Of The Med that Palermo has become.
"No! Where is Caflish?" she questioned, gazing at a shuttered, scaffold-clad dusty building.
"That was Caflish... maybe 40 years ago!" I pointed out.
Pasticcieria Caflish was the Mount Olympus of the Sicilian Cannoli, that paragon of delectable desserts, a delicate, crunchy tube-shaped shell of lightly fried pastry dough, filled with a sugary, creamy filling of sweetened ricotta cheese, hand-cut chocolate chunks, diced citron and orange peel and redolent of rosewater. To eat a Caflish Cannoli was to experience the ultimate sweet sensation. Caflish's Cannolis were so famous that they would fly them out on a daily basis to New York, Sydney, and anywhere else Sicilians wanted a taste of home at any price. And they would ship the cream filling separate from the shells so that they could be properly filled at the last minute and enjoyed, free from sogginess and staleness.
Well, Caflish went the way of most of the rest of Palermo's glories. The city centre decayed into a maze filled with trash, and the suburbs expanded over square miles of concrete and shopping centers. Palermo, Cleveland, Manchester... where am I, exactly?
While I drove around and around and around the block (Palermo's city center has as much hygiene as parking spots) my relatives started stopping people on the street asking where the best Cannoli in town were. They gathered various opinions, but one man-on-the-street had the best answer of all. "All the great Cannolisti have moved to America or died. Palermo has no great Cannoli anymore."
I don't know if the four of us could have been more crushed by news of a family illness. The thought of coming to Palermo and not eating great Cannoli was a disappointment equal to walking across the Sahara to the only Oasis and finding nothing but a passed-out Liam Gallagher.
Since that could not possibly be believed, we spent the rest of the day driving around and stopping at every single Pasticcieria to taste their Cannoli. After more than a dozen, we agreed with our man-on-the-street. Palermo's Cannoli were no longer worthy of the name.
There was only one choice now. Since the four of us had to have great Cannoli or die trying we had to drive an hour and a half further west almost to the tip of the great island. There in Dattilo, a little one-street town on the outskirts of the city of Trapani was EuroBar, the one Pasticcieria in Sicily that was still known far and wide for superlative Cannoli.
EuroBar is the last preserve of the "campagnoli" or "rustic" Cannoli, where the ricotta is brought in from the Caseificio just down the street and then only lightly stirred with the other ingredients, as compared to the "cittadini" city Cannoli where the ricotta is whipped until it's a cream indistinguishable in texture from mascarpone.
EuroBar is one of exactly two retail stores in Dattilo, the other being a butcher. How and why this Ultimate Altar Of Cannolidom is located in such a remote location is a mystery, but not to the Trapanesi who drive almost ten miles to crowd the Pasticcieria from morning to night. Although the Pasticcieria offers a wide range of Sicilian specialty desserts, it seems that the only orders are for the Cannoli.
The shells are made fresh and filled only once ordered. The result is nothing short of astounding. This Cannoli is almost twice the size of its minuscule city cousins, weighing in at about 200 grams (over 7 ounces!) and measuring about 9 inches long. This isn't dessert, this is a meal!
The ricotta is velvety satin cream and just a touch undersweetened, as is the "campagnolo" tradition. The chocolate is dark and rich, tasting of at least 70% cocoa. The shells are light, flaky, crunchy and without the slightest hint of oiliness from their frying. The rosewater aroma is intoxicating. Aaaaaah...
If I have one reservation is that EuroBar should add diced citron or orange peel. Other than that, it's absolute Cannoli heaven and well worth flying halfway around the world to taste!