The word “cassata comes from the Arab qas’at, (bowl) or the latin caseum, (cheese).
This is the traditional Sicilian cake, containing ricotta cheese cream, sponge cake, marzipan, candied fruits and sugar icing.
Although the recipe seems simple , there are a number of local variants.
The external aspect ranges from a mere icing decoration with a little candied orange rind to an opulent baroque effort with coloured sugar balls and half a dozen different candied fruits. There may be local additions of pistachios, pine nuts, chocolate, cinnamon, maraschino or orange blossom essence.
The origins of the cassata date back to the Arab domination of Sicily (IX-XI century) The Arabs introduced cane sugar , lemons, limes, bitter oranges, mandarins and almonds.
So with ricotta , which had been produced in Sicily since prehistoric times, all the ingredients to make the cassata were assembled.
Originally, the cassata was a pastry roll filled with ricotta and sugar baked in the oven.
In the Norman period, in the Martorana convent in Palermo, a kind of marzipan called Martorana made with ground almonds and sugar was invented and this was then used, after being coloured green with herb extracts, to substitute the original pastry crust.
So this was the change from a cooked cassata to one which didn’t need cooking.
Even though you can still buy “cassata al forno” it is not as popular as the more spectacular one.
The Spanish bought chocolate and sponge cake to Sicily and in the Baroque period candied fruits were added.
At the beginning, the cassata was produced by Sicilian nuns, who had a long running tradition of cake making, only in the Easter period.
An official document by a Sicilian Bishops’ synod in Mazara del Vallo in 1575 claims that the cassata cannot renounced during the celebrations.
A Sicilian proverb says “ tintu è cu nun mancia a cassata a matina ri Pasqua” the person who doesn’t eat cassata on Easter morning is miserable.
The last touch to the cassata was the introduction of “zuccata” (candied slices of marrow)
which was introduced in 1873 (in a meeting in Vienna) by the Palermo cake maker Salvatore Gulì, who had a cake workshop in the centre of Palermo in Corso Vittorio Emanuele.