In the opera scene of “The Godfather” III where Michael Corleone’s sister gives an ex-ally a box of Italian goodies, I’m guessing viewers wait for what would happen next.
However, I am focused on something else. What the hell is that Italian pastry compelling enough to eat, even if suspicious-looking?
It’s Italian cannoli. And that scene began my never-ending search for the dish. I first tried it in Vancouver and understood why it was indeed irresistible. Sarap!
In Manila, I have never come across anyone making it. I expected it in many Italian restaurants, but, zilch.
Then, one day, my cousin Ginny Roces de Guzman (maker of the best Gustare Truffle cake there is; tel. 0917-8350820) texted to tell me about an Italian restaurant along Shaw Boulevard that has cannoli.
It didn’t take too long for me to visit it. The place has been around for three years, so I was surprised that there was hardly anyone having lunch. I was very excited, though, especially when I learned that the chef, Mark, studied and trained in Sicily. He goes back every year to add to his repertoire of dishes.
On his menu were some known Italian dishes, but quite a few were new to me. I ordered what his fiancee Jen said were her favorites.
Among the appetizers (antipasti) were Polpette Al Sugo, or Sicilian meatballs with tomato sauce; and Arancini, or crispy balls stuffed with cheese risotto and pancetta, or bacon. I loved both, they tasted authentic.
I learned from the chef that these two appetizers are street food in Sicily. I also had Vongole con Pomodorini, or clams with cherry tomatoes; Pesto Siciliano; and Turkey panini.
I wasn’t too crazy about the pesto, having tried the dish in many Italian restaurants. But when I asked Jen what her favorite was, she pointed to it, assuring me it was different.
Indeed it was. The Siciliano and Vongole pastas were delicious, the flavors unique and the pasta perfectly al dente.
I once asked a friend, a frequent traveler to Italy, what made that country’s cuisine so special while looking so simple. He said, “Because they use the freshest ingredients.” That’s what I saw in chef Mark’s dishes.
I went back the next day but the place was closed. So, the day after, I was there again and tried other dishes. I had Mushroom Risotto, Black Truffle Pasta, Chicken Marsala (so it’s an Italian dish!). The chicken was good, too.
I was a bit hesitant about the Black Truffle Pasta because I find the black version lacking in taste compared to the white counterpart. Was I mistaken. It had al dente flat noodles, with delicious creamy sauce plus the strong aroma of truffle. Super sarap! I loved it so much that I had one taken out for a loved one.
I chatted with Mark and asked him why he ended up in Sicily. What a surprise when he told me he was a fan of “The Godfather” movies.
He said cannoli originated in Sicily. He also reminded me that the guy they gave the cannoli to in the movie was the one responsible for the ambush of all the dons in that hotel suite, with a helicopter used to assassinate everyone. Exciting scene. But I still remember the cannoli.
Mark has only one dessert—cannoli or another one with coffee. Not being a coffee-drinker, I had the cannoli. This is a crunchy, cone-like pastry (the shape of a larger barquillo) stuffed with mildly sweet mascarpone, or cream cheese, with both ends sprinkled with chopped pistachio.
The filling is added only when the dessert is ordered, to keep the surrounding crust crispy.
That half-slice cannoli was like popcorn to me. It was gone in a second. Now I no longer wonder why that Sicilian pastry was so tempting. You can feel this pastry swim straight to your belly, but, boy, it is so worth it. Just lie to yourself and promise to skip the next meal.
Cantina Sicilianita is at Facilities Center, 548 Shaw Blvd. (Babylandia complex across the turn to Wack Wack), Mandaluyong; tel 0917-5263702, 3693575. Prices are very reasonable.
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