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Celebrate the Season with Sweet Italian Treats

Chocolate-Dipped CannoliThe holidays are filled with sweet treats, great parties and plenty of reasons to celebrate. Around the world, everyone is gathering with family and friends to honor the season.

I love to find new recipes from international cuisines that represent how each culture celebrates. From lebkuchen in Germany to plum pudding in England, each country has its own sweet tradition. One of my favorites is Italian cannoli, and you can’t talk about Italian desserts without mentioning tiramisu.

For both, you will need to venture down the cookie aisle to find Alessi Cannoli Shells and Alessi Ladyfingers. Alessi Foods was created by the Vigo Importing Company to bring Americans the specialty foods that capture the best of traditional Italian cuisine. From the sun-kissed peaks of Sicily to the northern vales of Tuscany, every facet of Italian culture can be tasted and experienced.

Also known as savoiardi, ladyfingers are delightful and delicately light cookies that have been enjoyed by Italians for generations. Eaten as a snack alongside a glass of milk, children love their simple goodness. Adults also enjoy nibbling on them between sips of espresso or cappuccino. They are best known for tiramisu, where they are dunked in coffee and layered with a cream filling.

Cannoli also has an interesting origin. With the Arab introduction of sugar into Sicily in the ninth century, the cooking style changed forever. Ricotta had long been an essential part of Sicilian cuisine as well as pine nuts and currants. Resourceful Sicilians added the natural sweetness of sugar to these staple foods and wrapped them in a fried but delicate pastry tube, hence the birth of cannoli. Originally enjoyed by Sicilians only at Carnival time, word spread quickly of their goodness. The wonderful legacy of this Sicilian invention now enjoys worldwide popularity.

Both of these classic desserts are easy to make and always a hit at parties. Make some today, and start your new holiday tradition.

Chocolate-Dipped Cannoli

Ingredients:
1 pkg cannoli shells
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup chocolate, chopped
1 cup chocolate chips, melted
1/4 cup cream

Directions:
In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, sugar, cinnamon and chopped chocolate. Stir to combine and set aside. In a double-boiler, add chocolate chips and cream; melt over medium heat. Dip bottom of cannoli shells in the chocolate deep enough that the inside and outside of the bottom of the shell are covered in chocolate. Also, dip each end in the chocolate. Place the shells upside down on a plate, and let chocolate cool and harden. Using a pastry bag, pipe ricotta filling into shells from both ends. Lightly sprinkle with powdered sugar or cocoa powder. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Serves 6

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Alessi Tiramisu

Ingredients:
5 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Marsala wine
1 cup whipping cream, chilled
4 Tbs sugar
1 lb mascarpone cheese
2 cups coffee
1/2 cup brandy or marsala
1 Tbs vanilla
14 oz Alessi Ladyfingers
3 Tbs cocoa powder

Directions:
In the top part of a double-boiler, beat eggs and sugar together until the mixture is pale yellow in color. Place egg yolk mixture over water; gradually add marsala wine, beating continuously. Scrape bottoms and sides of pan occasionally, and cook for 6 to 10 minutes or until soft mounds can be formed. Transfer to bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Make the mascarpone filling by whipping cream with 2 tablespoons sugar until soft peaks form. Fold in mascarpone and prepared egg mixture; mix until well-blended. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

In a separate bowl, mix espresso, 2 tablespoons sugar, brandy and vanilla. Arrange 16 cookies on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Carefully spoon about 1 tablespoon of the coffee mixture over each cookie, so they are well-saturated but not falling apart. Spoon 1/3 of cheese mixture over cookies, and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon cocoa. Add another layer of cookies; repeat steps two more times, ending with cocoa. Cover and refrigerate for at least 5 hours or overnight, so the cookies soften as they absorb moisture.

Serves 8

View this recipe to print or add items to your shopping list.