Sicilian desserts are amongst the most delicious in all of Italy, and I would argue in all of the world. A few examples include frutta martorana, buccellato, granita (often referred to “Italian ice” in the US), and of course the sweetened ricotta desserts Sicily is perhaps most well known for: cassata, cannoli, pizza ricotta (Episode 9), and one of our favorites, which we share with you today– cassadedi.
Cassadedi are sweetened ricotta turnovers, which have been lightly fried and are served with a touch of sugar on top. They are a favorite in my family, and it’s really impossible to eat just one. In fact, once you start eating them, you can’t stop!
Cassadedi were made by my mother on special occasions, typically on Christmas or New Years, and served on large platters to many guests that would come together on the holidays. Typically they were accompanied by lots of coffee drinking, other desserts, singing, playing games and good conversations. The conversations always got more lively when the cassededi were brought out!
The recipe I am sharing with you today was handed down to me from my mother, and she got it from her mother, who had gotten it from her mother, and so on. In other words, it comes directly from “the Old Country”, and is a special recipe that I hope you will make part of your own tradition, handing it off to your own family some day.
The recipe makes about 25-30 individual cassadedi. If you’d like to make fewer, simply reduce the amount of the ingredients. Also, be sure to use the freshest ingredients to ensure the highest quality. For instance, the cinnamon you use should be freshly ground from a soft, whole cinnamon stick, and the ricotta should be fresh, whole milk ricotta.
Preparing the dough
For the dough, you will need the following ingredients: 4 cups of flour, 4 heaping tablespoons of shortening and 1/2 cup of water.
Add the flour in a bowl, along with the shortening. Mix with your hands, slowly adding water a little at a time as you need it to make the dough more consistent. Knead with your hands until fully mixed.
Break the dough into 3-4 even sized pieces an roll out in an slightly elongated shape with your hands. Get a medium sized bowl and coat it with some olive oil. Using a knife, take the dough pieces and cut them into small sized chunks. Flatten one of the pieces out, dip it lightly in the oil and place it on the side of the bowl. Repeat with the rest of the dough. You should have about 25 pieces or so, depending upon how big you cut them. You may also need to put them in a second bowl if you fill up the first. Once completed, put the bowl of dough aside while you make the ricotta filling.
Making the filling
For the ricotta filling, you will need the following ingredients: 2 pounds of fresh, whole milk ricotta cheese, 4-6 tablespoons of sugar, 2-3 tablespoons of fresh, ground soft cinnamon stick.
Place the ricotta in a large bowl, and add 4 tablespoons of sugar. Next, add 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon. Take an electric mixer, and mix completely. Taste the mixture, making sure it’s sweet enough and has enough cinnamon. If it’s not sweet enough, add another tablespoon of sugar. Add additional cinnamon also, if needed. Mix, taste, repeat as needed. Once you have the right taste and consistency, place the bowl aside.
Filling the dough
Take one of the small pieces of dough you placed in the bowl and put it on a rolling board (or your countertop). Be sure to sprinkle a bit of flour to prevent it from sticking. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin until it is thinned out. You will need to be very gentle to make sure the dough does not break. Next, using a teaspoon, take some of the ricotta filling and place it in the center of the rolled out dough. Next, fold the dough over the filling, sealing it all around with your fingers. Using a cutting tool, cut the edge of the dough evenly all around. Use a fork to press down the dough’s edges, sealing it while providing a nice decorative finish. Place the first cassadedi aside, then repeat and complete the remaining ones.
Frying the cassadedi
Get a large frying pan and fill it with an ample amount of olive oil. You want to have enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan with about a quarter of an inch. Heat the oil on high. Once the oil is nice and hot, place your first cassededi on the pan. You could place about 4-6 of them on the pan at one time, making sure that they don’t touch one another. Fry until they are golden brown on one side, then flip and brown on the other side. If your oil gets dirty because one breaks open or excess dough or flour gets in the oil, simply change out the oil with fresh olive oil.
Once all the cassadedi are completed, lightly sprinkle them with ground sugar, providing a light coating. Place them all on a large platter and serve! I think it’s best to serve them hot, but it’s perfectly fine to serve them warm or even cold. The temperature at which you serve them really depends upon the person eating them!