Warning: Reading this material may cause weight gain and cravings for a special Sicilian dessert. Read with caution and enjoy at your own risk!
By JASPER J. MIRABILE JR.
It’s September, and for this chef that just means one thing, it’s National Cannoli Month. Now don’t laugh, I am very serious.
What is a cannoli you ask? The cannoli originated in Palermo, Sicily, and was traditionally prepared for the pre-Lent Carnevale season.
The dessert, now an essential part of Sicilian cuisine, borrows its name from the shell’s long, tubular shape. It is filled with a sweet Ricotta mixture that contains bits of chocolate and finally chopped candied fruit. The version that Jasper’s Restaurant has been passed down by my grandmother and contains a touch of cinnamon.
The cannoli has become very popular at Jasper’s. During an average day, our pastry department makes hundreds of cannoli and during National Cannoli Month, you can times that by 10.
Some people ask when my obsession with cannoli begin. I like to tell them right after my mom took me off milk and I started eating, that is when I had my first taste of cannoli. I don’t remember it because I was only one year old but I’m sure I had a smile on my face. As the years went by, I’ve eaten hundreds of cannoli.
Every holiday my grandmother and mother would prepare cannoli and it was always part of our family table. My father always served cannoli at his restaurant and when I finally join the family business in 1984, cannoli became part of my regular day.
A few years ago I was writing my second book, The Jasper’s Kitchen Cookbook, and I received a note from my editor asking for a another chapter. They wanted something to close the book out.
I was on my way to Sicily with my nephew and our Slow Food KC group when I received the assignment.
To be honest with you, I really do not have any more recipes or ideas to add to the book. Yes, I hit writers block. We arrived in Sicily and in the airport in Palermo while waiting for baggage, we went to have an espresso. On the counter with a tray of cannoli. My eyes lit up. Of course I had to order one. It was delicious after a 10 hour flight.
We all get our luggage and hop into a large bus. Halfway through the bus ride, the driver decided to pull over and get our group some water and
coffee. We walked into the roadside coffeehouse and of course, I noticed a refrigerated display box with cannoli just calling out my name.
I guess you can say the rest is history. I looked up my nephew and told him we are ”On the Cannoli Trail” my friend. Get ready for one hell of a ride. Over the course of the next 10 days, we had over 50 different cannoli. Yes, I said 50 cannoli. I started rating the cannoli on a scale of 1 to 10 each day as we travel.
One day, I was so obsessed with finding the greatest cannoli, I had our travel director and Tuscan Diva Cucina Judy Francini take me to the iconic Maria Grammatico’s pastry shop in Erice, Sicily, to enjoy her famous cannoli. Maria took us in the back of the store and gave me one of her secrets. She told me. Her secret to a great cannoli shell was adding vinegar to the dough. When it would hit the hot oil, it would start popping and cracking and making little holes in the pastry shell. Wow, she was so correct. This may have been one of the finest cannoli I have ever eaten. Now I know why this is a mecca for Italian chefs.
The final night in Sicily we had a large celebration dinner with our group and many friends. We finished dinner and said our goodbyes.
My nephew and I were heading back to our room when the gentleman at the front desk called out my name. “Mr. Mirabile, I have a box for you.” My cousin Jasper, who joined us for dinner had left my nephew and a box all tied up with twine. We went upstairs and my nephew asked if we should open it.
I told him it was probably cookies for our family so just let it be and we would open up when we return home. In the middle of the night, I couldn’t sleep.
As usual, I had that sugar craving. I went and opened the box and to my surprise there was a note inside. The note was from my cousin Jasper and read, “You traveled all throughout Sicily and enjoyed some of the best cannoli ever but you never asked your cousin for a cannoli from your family’s hometown of Gibellina, Sicily.”
Tears came to my eyes as I bit into the world’s greatest tasting cannoli. I thought of my family, and especially my grandparents who probably enjoyed the same cannoli from the pastry shop in our small town where they were born. I had just arrived in cannoli heaven. A perfect 10 on my Cannoli Scale.
When I returned home I finished the last chapter of my book. It is called On The Cannoli Trail and also is the name of my next cookbook. In that book I will be celebrating the cannoli and of course many other authentic Italian desserts.
Did I tell you that two years ago the Mayor of Kansas City presented me with a proclamation recognizing National Cannoli Month? I guess you heard about my Cannoli Costume for Halloween?
The month of September I have many events planned at my family’s restaurant, on TV and radio. We will be having a cannoli recipe contest for our guests with many prizes including cannoli for a year. I will be On the Cannoli Trail visiting hospitals, police stations, firehouse and churches offering cannoli to the people who help us the most.
How about a cannoli-layered cake? Perhaps The Roasterie’s Special Edition Cannoli Coffee Blend that Bean Baron Danny O’Neill, Bean Hunter Paul Massard and I developed.
Would you consider enjoying a signature cannoli ice cream sandwiches — fresh-baked sugar cookies with Jasper’s cannoli gelato in the middle? Can you imagine a Cannoli Milk from Shatto Milk? I am also thinking Christopher Elbow Cannoli Chocolates. Cannoli Macaroons are also on my short list.
Gluten-free diners will love the Cannoli shooters I developed and of course, there will be 30 cannoli for 30 Days. Yes, I have developed 30 specialty recipes, including Cap’n Crunch (the Cannoli King’s favorite cereal), Snickers, candy apple, Red Velvet, Limoncello, Apple Pie, German Chocolate Cake, among others.
I am so crazy I am developing a Cannoli Therapy Patch. It looks like a tattoo and will contain 2 grams of cannoli sugar. HA!!!
Kansas City author and noted wine and spirits expert Doug Frost has created a special drink in honor of National Cannoli Month — a Cannoli Cocktail. Did I mention the fact that Jasper’s has on display the world’s most expensive cannoli designed by cake designer Cary Iennaccaro. Yes, the value is over $26,000 and it features an antique diamond necklace from Tom Tivol Jewelers.
And so my friends, hop on the Cannoli Trail with me this month. Who knows, you may even enjoy the addiction. As I like to say ... Forget About It — Have a Cannoli!
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.