Three heartfelt Sicilian desserts everyone will adore

Sweet and simple: Everyone will enjoy this classic teacake.
Sweet and simple: Everyone will enjoy this classic teacake. Photo: Brayton Gillette

When Perth home cook and writer Simone Agostino set out to publish a cookbook, her goal was to inspire others to make simple yet beautiful home-style dishes like her grandmother did.

"She was amazing," she writes in The Table of Us. "If you were to walk into her home ... she would have an impressive three-course meal ready for you within 30 minutes of arriving."

With the help of her designer husband Daniel, Simone has collated 70 recipes based on regional Italian food, family history and her nonna's style of cooking.

Simone Agostino's new cookbook.
Simone Agostino's new cookbook. Photo: Supplied

The collection draws on her Sicilian and Abruzzese heritage, including the following three heartfelt desserts anyone can make.

Sicilian apple cake

Being Sicilian, this is a favourite of mine through and through. A classic teacake that will please everyone. Growing up, my mother cooked her version of this for us all the time. It stirs up childhood memories of my own. Perhaps that's why I like to cook it for my children. They adore this teacake and I adore that they love it too.

INGREDIENTS

  • 120g unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup walnuts, toasted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups caster sugar
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 100ml milk
  • 4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • ½ cup sultanas, soaked in brandy or warm water
  • ½ cup pine nuts 
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • icing sugar, to finish

METHOD

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C fan-forced (190C conventional).
  2. Prepare a cake tin by lining the sides and base with baking paper – 20cm is the most suitable size for this recipe. Using a pastry brush, dip into the melted butter and spread evenly across the base. Add the toasted walnuts, also spreading evenly.
  3. In the bowl of a cake mixer, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and creamy. Sift in the plain flour and baking powder, then pour in the milk and remaining melted butter. Fold through gently to ensure the ingredients are adequately mixed, being careful not to overwork the batter.
  4. Next, in a small mixing bowl, combine the apple slices with the lemon juice and zest. Set aside.
  5. Finally, drain the soaked sultanas and set aside.
  6. To assemble the cake, start by pouring ⅓ of the mixture into the prepared tin, directly over the walnuts. Gently place ⅓ of the apples on top. Sprinkle ⅓ each of the sultanas and the pine nuts and repeat this process until all of the ingredients have been used. Combine the brown sugar and ground cinnamon, and sprinkle generously over the top of the batter. Place into the hot oven to bake for 60 to 70 minutes. The cake will be ready when it springs back if lightly touched, and it appears golden brown in colour.
  7. Remove from the oven and cool in the cake tin. Serve on a plate and dust with icing sugar.
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Serves 12

Extract from The Table of Us, by Simone Agostino, published by Simone and Daniel Agostino
Ricotta cannoli
Photo credits for the Cannoli is Claudio Pantoni
Single use print and online

Plain and perfect cannoli. Photo: Claudio Pantoni

Ricotta cannoli

It's a family joke when we say we've eaten our way through the cannoli of Sicily on many occasions. With just the right amount of sugar to balance out the cheesy taste of the ricotta, you'll be pleased to know that there are loads of variations to this delight. Options include adding pistachio, grated dark chocolate, glazed cherries, even orange zest. But I tend to believe that plain is perfect enough – I know what I always reach for.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1kg good quality ricotta, drained
  • 1 lemon, zest only
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 6-8 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 cup good quality dark chocolate chips
  • 1 packet of small cannoli shells (from your local European delicatessen or specialty shop)
  • icing sugar, to finish

METHOD

  1. Place a small sieve into a bowl and drain the ricotta. Cover with a tea towel and store in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes. It is very important to ensure there is very little moisture in the ricotta.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, lemon zest, vanilla essence and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Using a mixer, place on a medium speed and beat until well combined, light and fluffy, approximately 10 minutes. Fold through the dark chocolate chips if using.
  3. Taste for sweetness and continue this process adding in 1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar as you feel required. Continue until you have reached the desired sweetness. I usually find around 6 tablespoons is generally enough, but it can change from one batch to the next.
  4. Place the mixture into a piping bag, or just use a teaspoon if you don't have one, and start to fill the cannoli shells from each end until they are full. Complete this step just prior to serving, if you do this too far in advance then you risk the shells becoming soggy from the ricotta.
  5. Delicately place onto a platter and dust with icing sugar. Simply enjoy alongside an espresso.

Makes approximately 20 cannoli​

Extract from The Table of Us, by Simone Agostino, published by Simone and Daniel Agostino
Crostata di ricotta (baked ricotta tart)
Photo credits for the the Crostata di Ricotta is by Brayton Gillette. 
Single use print and online

Light, moist and baked to perfection. Photo: Brayton Gillette

Crostata di ricotta (Baked ricotta tart)

Ricotta – a staple in Sicilian desserts. This tart is light, moist and baked to perfection, finished with a perfect crumbly and buttery pastry. The measurements in this recipe will make one very large and tall tart, or you can make it into two smaller tarts if you prefer.

INGREDIENTS

For the pastry

  • 3 cups self-raising flour
  • ¼ cup caster sugar
  • 1 lemon, zest only
  • 250g unsalted butter, cold
  • 2 large eggs

For the filling

  • 1kg good quality ricotta, drained
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • ¼ cup caster sugar
  • ½ cup sultanas, presoaked in brandy
  • icing sugar, to finish

METHOD

To prepare the pastry

  1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and lemon zest. Add the cold butter and crumble between your fingertips until the mixture resembles a breadcrumb. Add the eggs and combine using your hands, or a mixer, until the dough starts to come together. If the mixture is too dry, add 1 tablespoon of cold water at a time until you have reached the desired consistency.
  2. Roll the dough into a ball, cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  3. After resting, remove the dough from the fridge and separate into thirds. Keep two, and wrap the third to place back in the fridge.
  4. On a clean floured surface, roll out the dough with a rolling pin until it is approximately ½ cm thick. Using the rolling pin, gently pick up the dough by folding it over and placing it directly over the baking or tart tin. Using your fingertips, mould the dough into the base and up the sides of the tin ensuring all areas are well covered, the thickness remains the same and there are no breaks or tears. Trim off any excess. Prick the base of the pastry tart with a fork multiple times. Place the prepared tart shell into the fridge to set while you prepare the filling.

To prepare the filling

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan-forced (200C conventional).
  2. Place the drained ricotta into the bowl of a cake mixer. Add the vanilla and sugar and beat on a medium speed for 5 minutes, or until smooth. Stir through the sultanas and taste for sweetness, adding additional sugar if you feel it's required. Remove the tart shell from the fridge and spoon the ricotta mixture directly into the centre. Spread out evenly and smooth off the top.
  3. Remove the remaining dough ball from the fridge and roll out using the same method as above. This will then become the "lid" of the tart. You can choose to decorate it any way you would like, using a lattice style with overlaying strips of pastry, or covering the tart completely as I have, or even using a biscuit cutter to form shapes and overlaying them to cover parts of the cake. Be sure to press the pastry edges down firmly to blend with the tart edges.
  4. Bake the tart for approximately 40 to 45 minutes, or until the pastry is light golden brown in colour.
  5. Carefully remove the tart from the oven and let it cool completely. Serve on a plate and dust with icing sugar.

Note: I have chosen a standard cake tin to create the tall, rounded edge. However, feel free to bake this in a tart tin for a more traditional result.

Serves 12

This is an edited extract from The Table of Us, by Simone Agostino, published by Simone and Daniel Agostino, RRP $59.95. Buy now