Take the cannoli.
This essential advice, immortalized on screen in “The Godfather” and practiced in real life, leads you to Italy’s best-known dessert.
Cannoli, if you’re having two, or cannolo if it’s only one, are a specialty of Sicily. But you’ll find these fried pastry tubes filled with sweetened, creamy ricotta from Asti to Agrigento, Padua to Palermo.
Shortly after I ate mashed bananas and pears, I tasted cannoli cream, introduced by spoon via Circo’s Pastry Shop on Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The cannolo does have competition in the Italian repertoire, but its place is paramount. For decades, cannoli meant Sunday as much as the gravy did. And Circo’s is still at work, as it has been since 1945.
Years later, during a pilgrimage to the Bronx, I was introduced to the glories of the fragile, just-sweet-enough cannoli of Sal & Dom’s Pastry Shop, now on Allerton Avenue, where the tradition continues.
And the giant, stuffed cannolo, filled with mini-cannoli, has become a party favorite, especially on Christmas Eve. The youngest child present gets to break the shell.
So, all this has turned into a lifelong quest: searching for that pinnacle of cannolo perfection.
The sweetest news, of course, is that crossing the city line into Nassau and Suffolk means you’re in cannolitown, too.
Classic cannoli are made at Marzullo’s Bakery and Cafe in New Hyde Park. Owner Tony Marzullo came to New York from Polizzi Generosa, a small town near Palermo, Italy. His father owned a bakery in Sicily.
Marzullo has been making cannoli here for 30 years. The “little secret” of his extraordinary cannoli is using sheep’s milk ricotta imported from Sicily, where it’s the standard, compared with more easily obtained cow’s milk ricotta here.
The baker mixes the ricotta in with sugar and a bit of cinnamon. Chocolate chips finish one side, a dried cherry the other. Marzullo sells about 150 of the fresh, hand-filled cannoli on a typical weekday and “thousands for Christmas Eve and Easter.” He also makes a “jumbo” cannolo that holds 50 minis inside.
In Smithtown, Angelo Cucina, co-owner of Alpine Pastry Shoppe, said, “Cannoli outsell everything . . . at least 2,000 a week . . . and we always fill them fresh, otherwise they can get soggy. If they’re for tomorrow, come back.”
He added, “We basically stick to the old-fashioned cannoli,” currently with a coda of bittersweet chocolate chips. The repertoire takes in large and small cannoli, plus the oversize “pregnant” variety with two dozen minis.
Cucina also offers some updated versions with a chocolate-dipped shell and cocoa-fueled chocolate cream. Veteran cannoliacs may have once enjoyed bits of candied citrus and melon studding the cream, but such enhancements are virtually extinct.
For more unorthodox cannoli, there’s the new Kannoli Kings in Massapequa. There, the shell is a springboard for savory and sweet, including a barbecued chicken cannolo and another with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Cannoli generally are served as dessert at lunch or dinner. But since they’re from Sicily, where gelato and brioche are a lush breakfast, enjoy one with your morning espresso, cappuccino or, if necessary, decaf coffee, too.
Here are some local establishments where cannoli are a specialty.
Casa Rustica(Credit: John Griffin)
Casa Rustica (175 W. Main St., Smithtown): At this four-star restaurant, cannoli ($8 for two) are an ideal finale to a Sicilian meal featuring pasta con sarde. More info: 631-265-9265, casarustica.net
Fiorello Dolce(Credit: Gerard Fioravanti)
Fiorello Dolce (57 Wall St., Huntington): Like everything else at this French-Italian bakery, the cannoli are fresh and refined. One large cannolo is $3.60; small cannoli are $1.60 each. More info: 631-424-0803, fiorellodolce.com
Autentico(Credit: Marisol Diaz)
Autentico (124 South St., Oyster Bay): Francesco Pecoraro, the chef at this three-star restaurant, was born in Sicily and his cannoli prove it. On the menu, cannoli are $6 for large, $3 for small; takeout for $4. More info: 516-922-2212, autenticooysterbay.com
Old Fashioned Bakery(Credit: Jessica Earnshaw)
Old Fashioned Bakery (10 Cedar Swamp Rd., Glen Cove): At this sweet partner of Glen Cove’s intensely savory Razzano’s salumeria, you can eat in or takeout. One pound of mini-cannoli is $14.95; a large cannolo, $2.50. More info: 516-759-1141
Alpine Pastry Shoppe(Credit: Alpine Pastry Shop)
Alpine Pastry Shoppe (59 Rte. 111, Smithtown): Cannoli are the pillars of Alpine, and the chocolate dipped ones are particularly good. Small cannoli are $1.99, large are $3.50 apiece. More info: 631-621-6024, alpinepastryshoppe.com
Leonetti Pastry Shop(Credit: Leonetti Pastry Shop)
Leonetti Pastry Shop (82-16 Glen Cove Rd., Greenvale): Savor your cannolo with an espresso at this bakery-gelateria-cafe. Cannoli are $4 each; mini cannoli are $16 a pound. More info: 516-625-8242, leonettipastryshop.com
Marzullo’s Bakery and Cafe(Credit: Jessica Earnshaw)
Marzullo’s Bakery and Cafe (1586 Hillside Ave., New Hyde Park): LI’s premier cannoli outlet will send your taste buds on a short but sweet trip to Sicily. Large cannoli are $3 each; mini-cannoli, $14 a pound, and the “jumbo” stuffed cannolo, $65, with 50 mini-cannoli inside. More info: 516-352-2859
Mr. Sausage(Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus)
Mr. Sausage (3 Union Place, Huntington): Joe Baldanza, “the pastry brother” at Mr. Sausage, fills cannoli shells with the mascarpone mixture he uses for tiramisu and dusts it heavily with cocoa. Tiramannol? Cannolamisu? Along with traditional cannoli, there are also ones flavored with Nutella and limoncello. $2 to $2.50 for small, $4 to $5 for large. More info: 631-271-3836, mrsausagefinefoods.com
La Bonne Boulangerie Bakery & Pastry Shoppe(Credit: La Bonne Boulangerie)
La Bonne Boulangerie Bakery & Pastry Shoppe (Multiple locations): The two La Bonne Boulangeries in Port Jefferson (125 W. Broadway) and East Norwich (6247 Rte. 25A), as well as sister bakery Dortoni in Levittown, sell large cannoli for $2.95 apiece and mini cannoli for $15.50 a pound, but the capo di tutti cannoli is the giant stuffed cannolo ($49.50) whose cream-finished ends conceal 42 mini cannoli within. More info: labonneboulangerie.com
Kannoli Kings(Credit: Kannoli Kings)
Kannoli Kings (830 N. Broadway, Massapequa): LI’s only cannoli specialist, sells savory (barbecued chicken, pictured; eggplant caponata) as well as sweet, $4 to $6 each. More info: 845-444-6146, kannolikings.com