Sicilian Cassatelle with Ricotta, also called sweet ravioli, are served during Carnevale in Italy. These little crescents of dough are filled with sweet ricotta and although are traditionally fried, they can be enjoyed baked as well!
We’re in the middle of a deep freeze here in Canada but on the other side of the pond, in Italy, they’re gearing up for one of their biggest holidays of the year, Carnevale. To celebrate in style, I’m sharing this recipe for Sicilian Cassatelle with Ricotta.
These little crescents of dough, also referred to as sweet ravioli, are filled with a sweet ricotta cream. Cassatelle, just like most Carnevale desserts are traditionally fried. However, I opted to bake my cassatelle in order to lighten up the recipe. But if you want to indulge in the original fried version, I’ll provide frying instructions further below as well.
Typical Sicilian treats prepared for Carnevale:
I then checked with my sources back in Sicily who confirmed that other than cassatelle, graffe (similar to our sugar covered doughnuts) or chiacchiere (crispy fried dough strips covered in icing sugar) are are also popular choices for Carnevale.
How is Carnevale celebrated in Italy?
But first, allow me tell you a bit about Carnevale. My mother described to me how they dressed up in costumes and exchanged sweets on this day. In my mind I referred to it as the Italian version of Halloween. But I later learned that it’s not quite the same.
Carnevale is the Italian equivalent to Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday, however you choose to call it. It’s basically a final day of partying and indulgence before lent and the restrictions that come with it.
Of course, the most popular Italian Carnevale celebrations occur in Venice and begin two weeks prior to Mardi Gras. Most of us are familiar with the famous Venetian masks associated with Carnevale. In most parts of Italy, including Sicily, Carnevale is celebrated on one day.
Watch my step by step video on how to make Sicilian Cassatelle with Ricotta!
The following are step by step instructions with images to guide you through this recipe. You’ll find the detailed printable recipe card at the end of this post.
How to make Sicilian Cassatelle with Ricotta:
I prepared the dough for these cassatelle by hand but it can be made with a food processor. Check out my post for cassatelle with chickpea and chocolate filling with instructions using a food processor.
In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar and salt. Add cubed butter. Use your fingers or a pastry cutter to incorporate the butter into the flour mixture. Make a well in the center and pour in the Marsala, eggs and orange zest. Beat the eggs with a fork and begin stirring in the flour to form a dough.
Transfer the shaggy dough mixture onto a clean surface and knead for about 5 minutes until smooth. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour.Meanwhile, prepare the ricotta filling: stir ricotta, powdered sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl until smooth. You may also stir in a handful of chocolate chips.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide into 4 pieces. Work with 1 piece at a time and leave the remaining pieces covered in plastic to prevent from drying.
Use a pasta roller or rolling pin to roll the dough as thin as possible. With a pasta roller, pass the dough through the rollers at the widest setting, gradually reducing the thickness until the second to last setting.
Use a 12 cm cutter to cut out circles of dough. I used this handy empanada that I happen to have on hand. Place about 2 heaping teaspoonfuls of ricotta filling in the lower third of the circle.
Fold the dough over the filling and use the tines of a fork to seal the edges well.
Place the cassatelle on parchment paper covered baking sheets and proceed with the remaining dough, rerolling the dough scraps to make more cassatelle.
Brush the top of each cassatelle with an egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp. milk. Bake in a 350 degrees F preheated oven for 20 minutes, until golden and lightly browned underneath.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
Tips and suggestions for perfect Sicilian Cassatelle with Ricotta:
- Marsala in the dough give the cassatelle a nice golden colour and you can also detect the sweetness of the liqueur in the dough. If you don’t have Marsala on hand, you can substitute red Port.
- If the brand of ricotta you use is watery, drain it by placing it in a cheese cloth covered sieve placed over a bowl. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours to drain excess liquid.
- The filling consists of ricotta sweetened with sugar and a hint of cinnamon. You may add a handful of chocolate chips to the filling.
- I used a 12cm empanada mold to cut the circles of dough. Be creative and use whatever you have on hand with a similar size. I found an empty yogurt container with a similar sized opening. The amount of cassatelle you make will vary according to the tool you use to cut your dough. I made two dozen cassatelle with my empanada mold.
- Resist the temptation to overfill the cassatelle. About 2 heaping teaspoons is plenty, otherwise the ricotta may ooze out when baking or frying and I’m speaking from experience! Make sure to crimp your edges with the tines of a fork to seal the edges well.
- Due to the fresh ricotta filling, Cassatelle do not keep for very long. If you don’t serve them right away, keep refrigerated and dust lightly with powdered sugar before serving.
- Cassatelle may be frozen in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Separate layers with parchment paper. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight and bring to room temperature before serving dusted with powdered sugar.
How to fry cassatelle:
To fry cassatelle, fill a heavy bottomed pot with about an inch of vegetable oil. When the oil is very hot, carefully place a few cassatelle (do not overcrowd) in the pot and fry until the dough is golden and puffs up, turning the cassatelle once to brown both sides. This will take about 2 minutes. Place on a paper towel covered platter and cool slightly before dusting with powdered sugar. The filling will be very hot so wait before digging in!
You’re now ready to make your Sicilian Cassatelle with Ricotta. Let me know how much you enjoy them by tagging me with your photos with @mangiabedda or #mangiabedda on Facebook or Instagram. Happy Carnevale to all!
If you enjoy ricotta filled desserts, here are a few more suggestions!
- Sweet Panelle with Ricotta Filling (Baked, Gluten Free)
- Mom’s Sicilian Ricotta Pie
- Sicilian Cannoli with Ricotta Filling
- Pizzelle Cannoli with Ricotta Filling
- Sweet Ricotta Easter Calzone
- St-Joseph’s Day Baked Zeppole with Ricotta
For the dough:
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
- pinch salt
- 2 tbsp. cold butter cubed
- 1 orange zested
- 2 large eggs lightly beaten
- 2 tbsp Marsala wine or red Port
For the filling:
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1 egg yolk with 1 tbsp. milk for brushing
- powdered sugar for serving
For the dough :
- Mix flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the cubed butter. Using your fingers, crumble the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a course meal.
- Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the Marsala, eggs and orange zest. Beat the eggs with a fork gradually incorporating the flour to make a dough. Turn the dough onto counter and knead for about 5 minutes until smooth. If the dough is dry, add a tbsp of water at a time, just enough for the dough to come together.
- Flatten into a disc, wrap in a sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour.
For the filling:
- Meanwhile, prepare the filling. In a bowl combine the ricotta, sugar and cinnamon and stir until smooth. Set aside in the refrigerator.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Cut the refrigerated dough into 4 pieces. Using a pasta roller, roll the dough until the second to last setting. Alternately, use a rolling pin to roll the dough until very thin, about 2 mm.
- Using a 12 cm cookie cutter, cut circles of dough. Keep covered until ready to fill to prevent from drying. Place about 2 heaping teaspoonfuls of filling in the bottom third of each circle of dough. Fold over the edges to form a half moon shape and use the tines of a fork to seal the edges well.
- Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Continue with the remaining dough. Brush each cassatelle with the egg yolk/milk mixture.
- Bake for 20 minutes until golden in colour and lightly browned underneath. Let cool before dusting with powdered sugar.