Holy Cannoli

L'Artusi's Gabe Thompson shows us how to make the classic Sicilian dessert

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Normally, you'll find Gabe Thompson turning out fluffy gnocchi or tossing hunks of watermelon into panzanella at one of his downtown New York City Italian restaurants.

But today at our Test Kitchen, the chef behind L'Artusi, dell'anima, Anfora and L'Apicio is sending a different kind of dough through his pasta machine: pastry dough.

"Making cannoli reminds me of making pasta," Thompson says. "It's very similar–mixing the dough and rolling it out–so it's easy for me to kick it out."

Though he might bend the rules of traditional Italian cuisine when it comes to pastas and mains, Thompson doesn't mess with this classic Sicilian dessert, something he learned from Katherine Thompson, his wife and pastry chef at the restaurant group they own along with beverage director Joe Campanale.

"I remember the first time she made it," Thompson says. "All the other cannoli I've ever eaten have had a stale shell and a too-sweet filling. But when Katherine made it, with freshly fried shells and house-made ricotta, it was perfect. That's what this recipe is."

Now, he's sharing Katherine's cannoli (see the recipe) in Downtown Italian: Recipes Inspired by Italy, Created in New York's West Village, the new cookbook from the three young restaurateurs.

"Working on a cookbook is a rite of passage for chefs and restaurateurs," Thompson says of this two-year labor of love. "It's something we've wanted to do for a long time, and what's nice about it is that it has elements of Joe, with cocktails and wine pairings, Katherine's desserts and my recipes."

But back to that cannoli. The trio knew they had to include Katherine's recipe in the book–there was simply no question.

At our Test Kitchen, Thompson whips a fresh batch of ricotta, folding in bits of bitter chocolate and orange zest, just like Katherine does at the restaurants. A bubbly crock of oil waits patiently until Thompson rolls the dough around metal dowels and dunks them in until the shells crisp up like fried wontons. Once he's piped the doctored-up ricotta in, Thompson dips both ends into crushed pistachios–the final Sicilian touch.

With relatively few ingredients, it's important to make each cannoli component carefully, allowing every flavor a chance to shine. "When it's done right," Thompson says, "it's a beautiful thing."