My daughter Amanda and her family came to visit for the weekend. She lives two hours away – just long enough in distance to qualify for a weekend sleepover. Which means mom is busy cooking all weekend. She had been hinting for some time that she has not had her favorite pastries in a while – cassateddi. Being that she’s expecting, I decided to indulge her cravings. Cassateddi (Cassatelli in Italian) are small, sweet filled, fried pies or turnovers that are either fried or baked. There are various fillings used throughout Sicily, such as fruit, custard, garbanzo bean, and ricotta. The ricotta filled cassateddi are our family favorite – flavored with cinnamon, sugar, chocolate bits, vanilla, and lemon zest. These pastries are deep-fried to a golden brown and dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar.
The ricotta must be drained of its liquid as much as possible before making the filling, otherwise the pastries will burst open when cooking. The ricotta should be somewhat dense after draining. I’m not an advocate for any product brand, but I find that the Calabro brand ricotta is particularly good for making cassateddi.
SWEET FRIED RICOTTA TURNOVERS: CASSATEDDI DI RICOTTA
(Cassatelli Di Ricotta)
Difficulty Rating: Medium
Makes 16-18 pastries.
For the Dough:
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons marsala or whiskey
1 large egg, separated
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Vegetable shortening or oil for frying
For the Filling:
2 pounds whole-milk ricotta
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ounce milk chocolate bar, chopped in 1/4-inch pieces (3 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon minced candied citron (optional)
Cinnamon for dusting
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Special Equipment Needed: *4 3/4 to 5-inch round cookie/pastry cutter, large sewing or turkey trussing needle, and a deep fryer
*Note: If you don’t have a large round cutter, you can use a small 5-inch round plate as a guide.
DRAIN THE RICOTTA (2 DAYS IN ADVANCE): Wrap the ricotta in a clean lint-free dish towel. Tuck the ends of the dish towel underneath and place on a large plate or in a bowl.
Place a salad plate with a small weight on top, such as a can, over the ricotta to help force out the excess liquid. Place the ricotta, along with the weight, in the refrigerator and allow to drain for 2 days.
PREPARE THE DOUGH: Place the milk, marsala, and egg yolk in a small bowl and mix with a fork until blended.
Place the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and stir briefly to combine. Add the shortening and butter, and rub the mixture together between the palms of your hands until both fats are dissolved and the mixture resembles dry biscuit mix. Stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture lightly with a fork, until blended. Knead dough several times until smooth. Cover dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
PREPARE THE FILLING: Using a wooden spoon, combine the ricotta, sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth. Stir in the chocolate and citron. Refrigerate until ready to use.
MAKE THE CASSATEDDI: Place enough shortening or oil in a deep-fryer to reach a depth of 3 to 4-inches. Heat shortening between 360 to 370 degrees F. Beat the egg white in a small bowl until frothy.
Take a small amount of dough, about the size of a small lemon, and knead a few times with your hand. Roll the dough out to a 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into a large circle with cookie cutter or use a 5-inch small plate as a guide and cut around it with a pastry wheel or sharp knife.
Place 2 tablespoons of the filling in the center. Using a small pastry brush or your finger, lightly brush egg white along 1/2-inch of the outer edges.
Fold the dough over into a crescent and firmly seal the edges with your fingers, being careful not to get any filling along the edges. If filling gets on the edges the pastry will not be properly sealed and will burst during cooking.
Crimp the edges with your hand or press firmly with a fork to seal. Repeat process with the remaining dough and filling.
Prick each pastry a few times with a large sewing or turkey trussing needle to release any air pockets.
FRY THE CASSATEDDI: Fry a few cassateddi at a time until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Place on platter lined with paper towels, using a slotted spoon, and dust lightly with cinnamon while still warm. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving. Refrigerate leftover cassateddi.
Note: Cassateddi can be or refrigerated for several days or frozen for up to 3 months. Allow frozen cassateddi to defrost in refrigerator. Bring to room temperature or bake for 10 -15 minutes in oven (350 degrees F.), until heated through.