@TonyVallone’s NEW Cannoli Affogato #decadent
The NEW Cannoli Affogato, a “deconstructed” cannoli “drowning” in a shot of espresso.
PLEASE CALL (713) 960-0333 TO RESERVE.
Here’s an interview with Tony in which he discusses his love affair with the cannoli, one of Sicily’s greatest sweets.
In all my years writing about Italian food and wine, I’ve never met anyone as knowledgeable about cannoli as Tony Vallone. Not only does the man create and serve one of the best cannoli I’ve ever eaten, but he’s traveled all over Sicily — the Promised Land of cannoli and the island where the dish originated — tasting and talking about cannoli with pastry chefs, restaurateurs, and local townsfolks.
“Once,” said Tony, “my cousins drove all the way to Ragusa,” from Corleone in the province of Palermo, where they live (nearly a 4-hour drive), “just because they heard that a pasticceria was making great cannoli there.”
You see, it’s not just Tony who is obsessed with the fine art of cannoli: cannoli course through this man’s Sicilian blood the way ricotta and sugar fill the shell of this iconic Italian dessert.
“Cannoli are often misunderstood,” Tony told me as we chatted (for nearly an hour!) about the dish over (guess what!) cannoli and espresso. “Anyone who tells you that cannoli shouldn’t be sweet doesn’t know what true cannoli are.”
In fact, cannoli are a supreme expression of Sicily’s grand tradition of pasticceria and a trace of the fundamental role that sugar — as sweetener and medicine — has played on the island for centuries.
To this day, said Tony, the greatest centers for the production of cannoli are found in the Piana degli Albanesi, where Christian orthodox Albanians settled in the late 15th century after being forced to flee their homeland as the Sultan’s armies approached. Here, the Arbëreshë, as they are known, continue to make cannoli as they have for more than 500 years.
“The secret to great cannoli,” Tony explained, “is purging the ricotta of its water before folding in the sugar.” Ultimately, the sweetness should come from the filling and not the shell, he said, although he has begun dipping the shell lightly in chocolate, a new trend emerging across Sicily, he told me.
Tony fries his own shells at his flagship Tony’s in Houston. “But there are plenty of great pre-fried shells that you can buy to use at home,” he said.
The thing that impressed me personally about Tony’s cannoli was the texture and consistency of the filling. When our first wave of cannoli arrived (yes, there was more than one), he insisted that I pick it up with my hands and bite into it. “That’s the way you eat a cannolo,” he said. The filling was light and even, with a wonderfully subtle crunchiness from the grains of sugar. As I put the cannolo back on the plate, I noticed that the filling retained its body perfectly, while remaining entirely creamy (this is where the draining of the ricotta comes into play).
As I left that day, I thought about how cannoli — like pizza or pasta — have transcended their local origins and now belong to the pan-Italian gastronomic canon that has conquered the world. Even the word itself has become part of the American collective consciousness (“Don’t forget the cannoli!”).
Dulcis in fundo: I had just eaten a cannolo with the man who probably knows more about this ancient dish than anyone else on the continent.
—Jeremy Parzen, Ph.D.