I ate a cannoli almost every day in Sicily, they replaced my daily Italian Gelato during this trip. I sampled many different varieties and flavors, meanwhile judging them all and trying to create the optimal combinations for my own. I decided that my favorite flavor combinations were ricotta with chocolate chips, ricotta with pistachio, and ricotta with candied orange, so that is what I decided to make for the dinner.
I love lamb, so when I read about braised lamb shanks with cheese…I was sold. This dish came out wonderfully, and I am excited to make it again. It starts out feeling very much like a French braised lamb shank until, after 2 glorious hours of slow cooking, you add in a few cups caciocavallo cheese!
You must try the Sicilian Caponata, every guide book told me. It is the flavor of Sicily, they said. I did. I tried many varieties of the quintessential eggplant dish, and all were delicious. Generally, the dish involves eggplant, although my research has shown that it is the sweet and sour dressing of vegetables, not the eggplant that make a dish a caponata. But let’s be honest, most of the time it is an Eggplant Caponata!
Today, I wanted to share with you my favorite of the trio, my Homemade Pasta with Lemon Ricotta and Squid Ink Sauces. Yes, you heard that right! Two sauces! I had a dish in Catania where ricotta was paired with squid ink, and this inspired the sauce pairing. I wanted to elevate a humble pasta dish with homemade pasta and the aesthetic experience of mixing ivory and ebony. There is a subtle warmth to the color of a ricotta cream, and a bit of lemon juice and zest brings out the luxurious creaminess of ricotta. I served the pasta mixed with this sauce. On the side, I served a gorgeously complex sauce of aromatics fried and blended in with squid ink, cooked with pieces of squid. This black, velvety sauce, once poured onto the pasta with Ricotta cream, creates an instant contrast both visually and on your palette. I am so proud of this dish I can’t even explain how wonderfully it worked out.
I figured the midnight black of the bread would aesthetically pair well with the bright orange of the Sea Urchin Uni, and the light fishiness of the flavor would work well with my dish. I even did a test-run of the flavors for Nico and my anniversary dinner the week before. It was an incredible success.
To start our meal, we created some amazing Spinach Arancini. Arancini are sold all over Sicily, from bars, cafes, high end restaurants, fish stalls, to little carts on the side of the street or in markets. They are an institution. I have seen Arancini in other parts of Italy, but I have never seen the Sicilian Arancini, which sometimes grows to the size of a baby’s head. The tradition of making these dishes, like many other culture’s quintessential dishes, came out of reusing leftovers. The best Arancini are made from day old risotto, so I recommend making the risotto a day in advance and letting it absorb all of the flavors of the spinach and wine overnight for best results. You can also make the Arancini themselves up to a day before, but make sure you fry them the moment before you are ready to serve.