Plant to Plate Series: Cannoli Techniques

When you picture cannoli, you may envision a traditional recipe: a crisply fried tube of pastry dough with a sweet, creamy, ricotta-based filling—or one using cultured cream for its smooth deliciousness. In this plant to plate conversation between The Chef’s Garden (TCG) and Jamie Simpson (JS), though, we’ll take you on a journey where Chef Jamie and his team are looking to create the perfect cannoli, one that’s vegetable based.

TCG: So, what do you think of cannoli, overall?

JS: Conceptually, it’s cool to think about fried dough being twisted around a cannoli tube and filled with something that’s texturally different from the outer shell. The idea itself is great, meaning when you take a crispy item and create a vessel out of it to hold a contrasting item that’s sweet or salty. It’s also cool that it’s something you can just pick up and eat cleanly.

TCG: When you say that you’re on the quest for the perfect cannoli recipe, what does that mean to you?

JS: People have already gone in either direction—sweet or salty—by using honey, pistachio, chocolate chips—things like that—in their recipes. In the vegetable space, parsnips are most often used.

TCG: But you want to go beyond that.

JS: Well, sure. And we started doing that at least four or five years ago when we took vegetables from The Chef’s Garden to Lisdoonvarna, Ireland. These vegetables were ones used in daily Irish cuisine, including parsnips, along with potatoes, carrots, and turnips. While in Ireland, we made parsnips beef carpaccio and parsnips cannoli with cream, while also using the other vegetables often used in Ireland.

TCG: Since parsnips are the most commonly used vegetable ingredient in cannoli, describe that process for us.

JS: It involves draping parsnip skin over a cannoli tube and baking it. The first time we tried that, the ends were somewhat open. Then we filled it with the creamy flesh of parsnips. Over time, we’ve continued to make the cannoli tighter and rounder, and are otherwise experimenting.

TCG: This week, you showed us three different ways you’re making vegetable-based cannoli. What can you tell us about those?

JS: We used three different techniques—as well as three different vegetables—while using the same shape for each. With the first, we used parsnip. We dressed the skin in oil and baked until crispy around the tube. We then filled it with a simple cream that’s almost like a pudding. It contained baked parsnip, milk, and salt. The result was a good clean representation of this particular vegetable.

TCG: What did you do differently with the second version?

JS: For this version, we used potato, in large part because it fries really well. And, rather than just wrapping potato around the cannoli tube and frying them, we used our vegetable sheeter to cut the potatoes into really long ribbons. Meaning, six to seven feet of potato. Then, when we wrapped the tube, we had so much potato to wrap that we actually lost the holes. This technique gave us more surface area so the outer shell stayed crunchy longer. Then, for the filling, we mashed potato with cheese and piped it in. Essentially, we made a savory potato chip and then filled it with cheesy mashed potato.

TCG: And, for the third variety?

JS: This one was undoubtedly my favorite.

TCG: How so?

JS: We used oca. If you try to mash oca, it takes on a gummy, somewhat unusual texture with an acidic edge. That’s why oca can be an offbeat choice for, say, purees. What we did was to take oca juice and cooked it on the stove.

TCG: So that kept it from getting all gummy and acidic?

JS: Actually, no. Cooking the juice turned it into a gummy, slimy, sour substance. We then spread the substance on a silicone mat and dried it down to the consistency of a fruit roll up before wrapping the material around the cannoli tube and frying it. With this pre-gelatinized starch, we could go super crispy.

TCG: What makes this your favorite technique of the three?

JS: This created a crystal-clear glassy tube that was slightly pink from the color of the oca juice. We then filled it with a combination of oca and yogurt, with the result being beautiful and clean, sour—and a real contrast to what is traditionally done. Picture if your cannoli came out with a clear shell and you’ve got the idea.

TCG: So, have you completed your quest to find the perfect cannoli recipe and technique?

JS: Not at all. Although I love that oca cannoli, we aren’t going to stop there. We’ll continue to explore the concept, whether that’s focusing on the tightness or looseness of the tube or finding other ways to create a crispy vessel and creamy inside that’s made from one single ingredient.

TCG: What single ingredient will you experiment with next?

JS: I’m not sure. Sweet potatoes would be beautiful. Or we could try brussels sprouts where we wrapped the outer leaves around the tube and fried them before adding the filling.

TCG: So you’re still on the quest?

JS: We’re still on our quest.