Cassatelle: Chocolate & Ricotta Fritters
Recipe and photos by Sarah Ubertaccio
I first stumbled upon Cassatelle in a book. Of all the unknown words in Gaetano Savaterri’s I Colpevoli Sono Matti, a collection of Italian crime short stories, cassatelle was the one that fascinated me the most. As he describes the main character’s cravings for warm, sweet ricotta, I found myself salivating to know more about this mysterious Sicilian dessert so much so that I stopped reading and spent the next few hours researching more about them.
Cassatelle are half-moon pastries, filled with sweet ricotta and chocolate. They are typically deep-fried and are best served warm with a dusting of powdered sugar. Although you can skip the frying – I was tempted to do so myself as I’m not one for the whole frying mess – and bake them instead, the fried version is marginally better in my opinion and well worth all the grease stains!
One of the things I love about cassatelle is that they are a lot like cannoli in the sense that they have the same sweet ricotta filling encased by a not-too-sweet fried dough. However, I think cassatelle are much friendlier for the home cook, as you don’t need any special equipment (cannoli require special metal tubes that you wrap circles of dough around). In fact, you probably have all the equipment you need to make cassatelle at home right now!
The classic version uses ricotta and chocolate chips, but I think a dollop of jam or dried fruit paired with the ricotta would be delicious as well. You’ll want to use the best quality of whole milk ricotta that you can find. The drier, the better! Let it drain overnight in the fridge over a cheesecloth and fine mesh sieve to remove as much moisture as possible.
While not traditional, I like to add a small sprinkle of flaky sea salt to the cassatelle as they cool. To me, this helps bring out the flavors even more and balance the sweetness from the powdered sugar.
Cassatelle: Chocolate & Ricotta Fritters
Makes roughly 15-20 cassatelle
Prep time: 20 Minutes, plus 1 hour resting
Cook time: 25 Minutes
Rolling pin or pasta machine
Medium or large round ravioli stamp or round cookie cutter
Piping bag (optional)
For the dough:
250 grams (1½ cups) all-purpose or 00 flour
40 grams (½ cup) granulated sugar
zest from ½ lemon
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon white wine or Marsala
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
120 grams (½ cup) lukewarm water
For the filling:
250 grams (1 cup) whole milk ricotta cheese, drained
30 grams (¼ cup) confectioner’s sugar, sifted
45 grams (¼ cup) mini chocolate chips or finely chopped dark chocolate
A few pinches of flaky sea salt, to finish
To make the cassatelle dough:
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, lemon zest, and salt. Make a well in the middle and add the wine, olive oil, and lemon juice. Mix together with a fork. Gradually add the water (you may not need all of it) and continue to mix together until you have a smooth and silky dough. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and let it rest in the fridge for one hour.
To make the ricotta filling:
Drain the ricotta for several hours, or overnight in the fridge. Place it in a cheesecloth, set over a fine-mesh sieve and bowl, to remove as much moisture as possible.
In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta with the confectioner’s sugar until smooth and there are no longer any lumps of sugar.
Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
To assemble and fry the cassatelle:
Remove the dough from the fridge. Using a rolling pin or pasta machine, roll out the dough to about the thickness of a quarter (roughly 1.5 mm). Using a round cookie cutter or ravioli stamp, stamp out circles of dough (anywhere between 2½ – 4 inches round is a good size).
Place about 1 teaspoon of filling on one half of each round (you can also use a piping bag to do this). Place a few chocolate chips on top of the filling. Before sealing, gently dab or mist a bit of water over the circle rims. Fold over the empty half and use a fork to crimp and seal the edges.
Heat 2 inches of oil in a medium pot to 340°F. Fry the cassatelle, 4-5 at a time, turning them after about 2 minutes so that they turn golden on both sides. Alternatively, if baking, place cassatelle on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in the oven at 350°F for 20-25 minutes until golden
Use a slotted spoon to remove the cassatelle from the oil. Drain on paper towels.
Once cooled, dust with powdered sugar and sprinkle with a little bit of flaky sea salt. Serve warm.
To store, place the cooled cassatelle in a sealed container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Just before serving, gently reheat in the oven at 325°F until warmed through and re-dust with powdered sugar.