This ricotta and chocolate chip filled sponge is usually an opulently decorated and often gaudy cake, covered with brightly coloured candied fruit (maraschino cherries are a classic), food colouring-pumped green marzipan and royal icing in dainty, lace-like frills.
But don't be frightened by its appearance.
It's actually a surprisingly delicate cake and one mouthful will have you hooked. Sponge cake layers supported by alternating pistachio marzipan and sponge sides hold together a creamy filling of ricotta and chocolate. A hard, sugar glaze coats the entire thing and whole candied fruit – an art in itself in Sicily – decorate the top. Could there be more going on here? It's the ultimate Sicilian dessert and it is a constant at the Easter table, as it has been for centuries.
This elaborate Sicilian specialty is made all over the island from Palermo to Trapani and, they say, is over a thousand years old.
Usually made in a pie tin that has outward sloping sides and lined with sponge and marzipan then filled and lined again, the dessert is then left to rest in the fridge for a few hours to set, to take shape and to give time for the flavors to mingle. It is then up-turned onto a plate, glazed and decorated.
Some add candied fruit, chopped into little cubes, to the ricotta filling. Others dab a syrup spiked with rum or marsala to the sponge to help it take shape. Another variation includes a green-tinged marzipan covering the entire thing instead of the sugar glaze, but the ultimate recipe should include a real, homemade pistachio marzipan that is cut into inch-wide pieces that alternate with sponge to create a striped look along the sides of the cake.
I've kept the essential elements in the most traditional way. Keeping in mind the entire thing is covered in a shell of icing, I used significantly less sugar than what the usual sweet-toothed Sicilian would use in the ricotta filling. I must admit, though, there is slightly more chocolate and it is dark, at least 70% cocoa, and chopped into pieces from a very good block rather than regular chocolate chips. Now enter a little bite of homemade pistachio marzipan and perhaps a sliver of artisan candied fruit (seek this out, it is quite a different thing to regular, packaged candied fruit) and you have one unforgettable Sicilian dessert.