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Monday, 28 January 2008

The Mountain of Sweet Toothed Albanians

30 August 1488 is a little known date commemorating a little known event that would culminate in the creation and perfection of what would become the most popular single requested item on the dessert menu in Italian restaurants in North America and elsewhere.

It was on this day that a group of Albanian refugees fleeing from the Turks were given the permission to build a village high in the stunning yet harsh mountains of central Sicily. The Albanians were probably the only migrants arriving in numbers that weren't intent on conquering Sicily. Instead they created the Piana degli Albanesi (or Plane of the Albanians), which has survived for over five hundred years as a predominantly Greek/Albanian enclave in Sicily. Their traditions remain the same, their language little changed from the Greek Albanian dialect (Arbëreschë) initially imported with the first settlers, their religion still Orthodox and their look is still distinctively Balkan. All in all, it is a curiosity that remains today...

...And thankfully so, because not only is Piana Degli Albanesi one of the most picturesque and beautifully authentic villages in Sicily but is the home of the best Cannoli in all of Sicily. Those of you familiar with Italian desserts (which probably includes most of you) will know that the Cannoli is the King of them all.

The Cannoli (Cannolo for singular) originated in Palermo in the time when the Arabs controlled Sicily. Delicious Italy.com states that the Greeks left their grand temples and amphitheatres, the Normans left their red hair gene (ever wondered why there are so many Sicilian red heads?), but the Arabs left a great big sweet tooth.

When the Albanians arrived and set up shop in the Piana Degli Albanesi they must have taken one look at the Cannoli and said, "We can do better". And did they ever. Where a regular Cannolo is the size of two fingers, the version found (still today) ONLY in the Piana Degli Albanesi is the size of two fists containing a local version of sweetened Ricotta made to a secret recipe, known only to a few families.

Ask any Palermitan, or any Sicilian, for the best Connoli and the answer will be to head for the hills, about 60 minutes from Palermo, to the Piana Degli Albanesi.

Remember this when you next order Connoli for dessert.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Sicily Named In Another "Top 10 for Travel"

Yet again, the travel destination of Sicily has scored another "Top 10 position" with a ranking in the esteemed travellers' website, BootsnAll.com's, "Top 10 Destinations for Independent Travellers in 2008". It describes a trip to Sicily as a more intensely Italian (and noticeably cheaper too!), with an abundance of seafood, both exotic and deliciously simple.

You really haven't lived until you have been to Sicily.