It is one of the most beloved dessert of Sicily, tasty and beautiful, Sicilian cassata has a very old story. It is the result of all the foreign peoples who came to Sicily and, as well as many other specialties of the island, has an Arab origin, at the beginning of 9th century when the previous Byzantine domain became weak and Muslim people arrived from Mediterranean sea. The majority think that the name comes from the Arabic qas’at, that means basin.
In fact, Arabs brought most of the ingredients used to prepare this sumptuous dessert, such as sugar cane, lemon, citron, bitter orange, mandarin and almond. Ingredients that are used for a lot of others typical recipes such as Martorana fruit.
Nevertheless, the main ingredient was already produced in Sicily since prehistoric times, sheep ricotta, a type of soft white cheese that is creamy and smooth but with a longlasting flavour. Sweetened with sugar it became a perfect filling for every kind of dessert.
At the beginning, cassata was a simple baked pastry dough casing filled with sweet ricotta, very alike to the dessert nowadays known as oven-backed cassata that is much simpler but appreciated by Sicilian people and foreigners.
It was under the Norman period that the cold version was created. The pastry casing was replaced with almond paste that was first prepared in the Martorana convent in Palermo in 1100.
Of course, also Spanish people contributed to the creation of this dessert. After they explored the lands across the Atlantic Ocean, brought to Europe chocolate from South America, so the chocolate drops you can find in the ricotta filling since 16th century arrived from very far away. Moreover, also the base of the dessert arrived from Spain, in fact sponge cake in Italy is called pan di Spagna (Spanish bread).
The decorations made with candied fruit that make the surface colourful and the taste richer were first made in the baroque period.
By tradition, cassata should be eaten at Easter or Christmas, in fact a old Sicilian saying goes: “Tintu è cu un mancia a cassata a matina ri Pasqua” (“Bad is the one who doesn’t eat cassata at Easter morning”).