They're wonderful treats, handheld deep-fried pockets of tender dough filled with sweetened ricotta and dusted with confectioners' sugar. My father made them every year at Christmas, even though they're typically served during spring holidays, particularly the St. Joseph's feast day and Easter.
Alas, when I decided that it was time for a cassatedi comeback, I worried it might be too late: Not only could I not find a recipe, I couldn't find a cookbook that even mentioned them.
Of course, my father, Joe — an excellent and improvisational, recipes-who-needs-'em? cook — had his formula to offer. There are reasons I have demurred. First, he is an impatient man. At some point between 1969 and 1973, he stopped making the dough from scratch and switched to an instant hot roll mix. Then he added chocolate chips. (OK, nobody ever minded the chocolate chips.) Then he decided they would be more healthful if they were baked instead of fried.
And you wonder why I was looking for a recipe.
My plan was to find said recipe, then make the cassatedi with Dad — the way his grandmother made them before the Pillsbury Doughboy, Nestle and the food police got into the act.
Nothing against the authentically minded, Slow Food-endorsed, learn-from-your-elders approach. But it is best mastered in a nurturing environment that often has nothing in common with many an Old World cook. They often are short-tempered, use crummy pans and mistrust interlopers. (My dad qualifies for only two of these, and I'm not saying which.)
Plus, his cheerful belligerence meant that he would try and get me to make cassatedi his way: The tiny confections became, in my father's hurry-it-up manner, larger and more bulbous each year. (If he made them bigger, it wouldn't take him as long and he could get back to the game — any game, any sport — on TV.) Dad's cassatedi were still delicious, but really big in a freakish sort of way.
I finally stumbled upon an out-of-print Italian-American cookbook in a used bookstore that had the recipe, with a notation tracing them to a village near Trapani — which is near my grandparents' Sicilian village of Sambuca.
Mystery solved. Recipe found. But would I survive an afternoon in the kitchen with Joe?
I called him to set a date to do this, and each time our conversation went something like this:
"We need the hot roll mix —"
"Dad, I told you. I'm making the dough from scratch."
(Pause) "Oh." (Pause) "You sure? That hot roll mix is fast."
"I'll make the dough before I come over."
"OK, that's good, there's a game I want to watch. Now, you need ricotta and chocolate chips —"
"I know. I've got a recipe."
"We don't need a recipe. You need ricotta and chocolate chips —"