(CNN) – Traveling to Sicily without indulging in delicious canola pastries is like visiting Naples without an authentic pizza. Was practically unheard of.
It is almost impossible to resist this delicious crispy tube shaped shell filled with fresh ricotta. And once you have one, you will crave another.
While there are versions of canoe (or canoe) elsewhere in the world, the only way to get a taste of the real thing is to travel to the Italian island. Nowhere else is there a suitable substitute, not even in the rest of Italy.
But what makes this delicious pastry so often addictive, topped with sweet fruit, chocolate or pistachio pieces, so addictive?
The locals of the Sicilian town of Celtanisetta claim that there is a very vague secret behind its attractive qualities.
Canolo, a tube-shaped shell of fried pastry dough filled with fresh ricotta, is one of the most popular pastries in Sicily.
Kathy Schola / Moment Open / Getty Images
Located deep in central Sicily, Celtanisetta is often claimed as the “birthplace” of Canolo. Here, the mouth-watering treat is sometimes referred to as “Moses’ rod” or “King’s scepter” in reference to its supposed erotic origins.
According to legend, Canolo was first created by the concubines of an Arab rich man to honor the sexual power of his master, and his felix form was no accident.
Limited within the red walls of Pietrarosa Castle, the women are said to have spent hours making sweets together.
“The origins of this delicious cake are shrouded in myth and myth but there are some real historical elements that compel us to support its paternity,” Celtanisetta Mayor Roberto Gambino told CNN.
“Kaltanisetta was founded by the Arabs and it is possible that there was a harem here that was rich with women making rich canola.”
The name “Celtanisetta” comes from the Arabic “Kal-et-Nisa”, which translates to “City of Women”.
Some Latin writers have also mentioned the existence of such a “women’s city”, apparently referring to it as “Castro Feminarum”.
‘City of Women’
Many consider the Sicilian town of Celtanicetta to be the birthplace of Canolo.
SimonCountry / Adobe stock
According to local professor and researcher Rosana Zafuto, Celtanisetta was once a strategic outpost, as well as one of the greatest Arab centers in Sicily.
Petrarosa Castle, one of the most important castles in Sicily, is believed to have been built as a military appearance in the 9th century.
Zafuto says his position, bypassing the Salso River, allows winners to enter the sea with their ships. The town of Celtanisetta will eventually develop around the fort.
Today, Petrarosa, meaning “red rock” in Italian, is essentially a ruin and a convent at its feet.
Located in a quiet location just outside the town center, with views of the landscaped pastures, the Canolo has managed to retain its charm by sticking to the mythology.
Sicily has been under Arab rule for hundreds of years, with symbolic foods such as culinary traditions and popular pastries becoming part of Sicilian culture.
Despite traces of “primary” canola from ancient Roman times, the recipe that exists today is of Arab descent.
One of the legends surrounding pastries states that the “women inside the castle” came up with the idea of filling pastry dough with ricotta to welcome their beloved when they visited Palermo, north of Sicily. Canolo was obviously considered an ideal treat that could be quickly prepared for its arrival.
The dough was wrapped around an imported and grown thick cane to form an empty shell, which grows in the surrounding fields, forming tube-like biscuits with a rough, rugged and bubbly surface, like small crusty volcanic craters.
Harem for convent?
There are many legends around Canolo. Some say it was first created as a treatment for the Arab rich.
Giuseppe Greco / Moment RF / Getty Images
The hard “scorza,” or outer shell, which stays fresh for days, was filled with fresh lamb ricotta cheese at the last minute before it was served – as it is today in Sicily – so that it remained solid. The canola shell is usually wrapped around a steel tube and fried in grease nowadays.
In a rather improbable turn, other myths suggest that Canolo migrated from the harem to nearby convents built in later years and became popular among local nuns.
The nuns apparently prepared it as a typical pastry that could be served during the carnival, when chaos reigned and Christian, moral laws were instantly replaced with pagan rituals.
Worshiping felix-shaped objects and cakes was considered a way of celebrating fertility and life.
When the Arab rule ended with the rise of the Norman Empire in 1086, the Arabs living in Kal-at-Nisa were not expelled and did not flee.
“They were converted to Christianity and assimilated into society,” Zafuto says, before suggesting that the daughters or descendants of the rich mistress may have taken a religious oath.
“The Arabs and their traditions live in Celtanisetta. There are many Arabic-sounding words in our dialect, such as ‘tabbutu’ which means ‘coffin’ while our old neighborhood name ‘Sakkara’ is similar to a district of Cairo.”
According to local master pastry chef Lilo Defria, who has spent 25 years researching the origins of canola, the “ladies of the castle” will eventually hand over their recipe to nuns who have a long tradition of pastry making.
He firmly believes that Canolo was born in Celtanisetta and the humble stories surrounding his origin are more than just myth.
Local pastry chef Lilo Defria has spent nearly 25 years researching the origins of canola.
Alessio Abate Carlo Bolzoni
One of the main reasons for their determination is the special type of flour that has historically been used to make the outer shell of pastries, which Daphne has recreated by asking city elders and farmers.
“Our ancestors grew a variety of Majorca wheat flour that is soft, versatile and ideal for making cakes and pastries,” he explains.
“This was the first type of flour used to make canola, which was initially filled with ricotta mixed with honey.”
Today, an ancient stone mill is used to make Majorca flour in Kaltanisetta.
Defraa praises the “teamwork” of concubines and nuns, using the main elements of the Sicilian town centuries ago.
It is suggested that the nuns modified the original Arab recipe by adding more granular, solid ricotta to the pastry, which was sold around the Italian island until the 1800s.
However, some stories indicate that it was actually the nuns who dreamed of pastry in the first place. Whatever the truth, canola is still one of Sicily’s favorite and most popular pastries today.
Defrae make their own canola from a blend of goat and lamb ricotta, which they say ensures they are tastier and more digestible, with the addition of vanilla, pumpkin pie, chocolate and pistachios.
He is proud to have made a version that weighed 180 kilograms earlier, and his goal is to one day break his own record.
For her, canolo remains a timeless, wonderful treat, with the right mix of holy and unholy.
“Canolo is the supreme expression of our ‘Sicilianness’, the melting pot of different cultures and beliefs,” he adds.
“It’s our Easter Sunday cake.”