Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Love and Sicily

I have just returned from a week of eating, drinking, swimming and searching; searching for Sicilian tiramisu perfection. I didn’t find it – but I did find some perfectly edible things along the way.

My first tiramisu experience in Sicily was a disappointment. We had arrived in the Western port of Trapani, a city known for tuna, swordfish and cous cous or ‘cus cus’ in Italian. Our attempt to take the funicular to the top of the mountain to a town called Erice had been thwarted by the Italian holiday season. The funicular was on holiday and didn’t open until 1pm and it wasn’t quite 12 yet. So the mountain top town of Erice would have to wait.

We drove into the heart of Trapani through heavy pre-siesta traffic, eventually found ourselves port side, and parked up outside a pasticceria (Italian cake shop) called Angelino. We sat down, noted what the Italian family next to us were eating and ordered what they were having – arancino – rice balls stuffed with cheese and ham (or whatever you have left over in your fridge). Through in the bar we battled our way to the front and ordered espresso, and tiramisu – which they cut from a large slab in the fridge.

The tiramisu was €1.50. A layer of thin sponge – not savoiardi – on the bottom, with thick coffee-flavoured cream on top. The cream tasted like it had some kind of thickener in it. The best part of this tiramisu was the drifts of cocoa on the top.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Mama's Zabaglione

I know I’m going on holiday at 3am tomorrow, but I thought I could fit in one more blog post before I go. The packing will have to wait.
After my second post, my mum read my blog and emailed me about her experience of Zabaglione. Zabaglione is the first part of the mixture for tiramisu, as I described in How to make tiramisu.
Mum said that back in 1974, when she was living in London, her Italian landlady taught her how to make Zabaglione. So there was my Mama, back well before I was born, living in London just like I am now, making Zabaglione, just like I am. Funny how that happens.
Mum returned to New Zealand in 1975, only to find that European food still hadn’t really broken through. No ricotta cheese, not even any yoghurt. Wine came in a box and was red or white. Coffee? Nescafe, milk and sugar. Chinese takeaways were all the rage.

My Grandma gave Mum a Christmas present when she came back – a very ‘in’ cookbook called “Australian and New Zealand Complete Book of Cookery”. This fancy new cookbook even had full-page pictures. Along with the trusty New Zealand Edmonds cookbook, it was the only one my Mum owned. And in this new-fangled cookbook, lo and behold, was a recipe for Zabaglione, which Mum was pretty overjoyed about.
So Mum fancied herself as a bit of a Zabaglione maestro back then in New Zealand in the mid 1970s. Now, I don’t recall this Italian dessert growing up. And this is because, as Mum put it, “then I had kids, got poor, and cooking became an everyday chore!”
I asked Mum to share her recipe for Zabaglione with me for this blog. And her email came through this morning. And I thought, well, I had better just make it. Luckily we have friends who, at the drop of a hat, will leave everything and come to help us on a Sunday afternoon to eat dessert experiments. Thank goodness for good friends.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

How to make tiramisu

On my second post, I am going to kick off the blog by sharing with you my very own tiramisu recipe that I use. I actually poached it from Cuisine magazine.


3 eggs separated
½ cup caster sugar
¼ cup Marsala wine (available from Mediterranean food shops, or try your local bottle shop)
400g mascarpone
200ml coffee
2 tablespoons brandy
1 packet Savoiardi biscuits (from most supermarkets, or definitely found in Mediterranean food shop)
Good quality cocoa for dusting

Friday, 19 August 2011


I am from New Zealand, and grew up believing tiramisu was coffee flavoured sponge cake sandwiched between thick layers of cream, with chocolate sauce on top. And then, I went to Italy.
Now, in case you didn’t know, tiramisu is from Italy. Not from Japan, as the name might lead you to believe – although I’m 100% sure somewhere in a department store patisserie in Tokyo, nestled amongst perfect slices of elaborately decorated cake, lies a fabulous tiramisu – one day I will find it and write about it for you here. Anyway, I was talking about the fact that tiramisu comes from Italy. It’s translation from Italian, I believe, is ‘pick-me-up’. Something you need post large meal, laced with coffee, alcohol and sugar, to get you going for, well, whatever comes next.
Now, I am going to share with you my memory of the most exceptional tiramisu I have experienced to date. It was in a little restaurant in Rome, very near the Colosseum – though not a touristy place I assure you. At this time I was staying in Rome with my Bello, in a friend’s apartment situated in a very beautiful part of Rome, between the Colosseum and the train station. All the streets are cobbled (don’t wear high heels), there are no footpaths, and cars and scooters scream down tiny lanes at full speed. Yes, Italy. So, we were staying in Rome, and had been recommended a restaurant by our Italian friend. It was her Mama’s favourite.
The Mama’s favourite restaurant is called Nerone, on Via Terme di Tito. The meal we had was fabulous, though I can’t actually recall what I ate. What I do remember, vividly, was dessert. We shared a tiramisu, and it was a completely different experience to any other tiramisu I had ever had. The cream wasn’t cream at all (later I discovered this is called Zabaglione, but we will get to that), and was gooey and a pale yellow in colour, absolutely divine. Every tiramisu I have eaten since then I compare to this experience. It is my benchmark. Go to Rome, and try it.

Moving on from Rome, the second most outstanding tiramisu experience I have had, was when we were staying in a bed and breakfast in Positano, on the Amalfi Coast. Mama Celeste, our host, fed us tiramisu for breakfast, on a terrace overlooking the beautiful town of Positano and the sparkling Mediterranean sea, with big cups of fresh coffee. I don’t know if there is anything more decadent, yet more perfect, for breakfast than tiramisu. This tiramisu, handmade by Mama Celeste, was an entirely different beast to the tiramisu from Nerone. This version was thick and creamy and sweet, and not alcoholic. A good breakfast tiramisu. It stands out for me, partly because of the lovingly handcraftedness of it, partly because it was for breakfast, and partly because of the amazing setting. Casa Celeste
So, what I started to realise here on my trip to Italy, was that tiramisu can come in many different forms. In fact, it would be difficult to find two versions of tiramisu that are the same. Every Italian family has their own version of tiramisu. Some don’t add alcohol. Some dust with bitter cocoa, others with grated chocolate, others with sauce. Some is made with mascarpone, some with cream, some with a mixture of the two. Some contain eggs, some don’t. I’ve even seen versions made without coffee and using ingredients like white chocolate and raspberry. Tiramisu is one versatile dessert.
This is the inspiration for my blog – to search out the best tiramisu I can possibly find, and share with you my encounters of tiramisu that are imperfect – too creamy, too sweet, too dry, too old…..
Now, it also so happens that, next week, I am off to Sicily for a little holiday. I know Sicily might be quite different to the mainland, and probably have their own dessert specialties, however I’m guessing that somewhere on that island I will definitely find tiramisu. In fact, the town of Marsala, home of Marsala wine, a key ingredient in tiramisu, is only a half hour drive from where I will be staying. I will take notes, and take photos, and then you too can share in my Sicilian tiramisu quest.
Before I leave it there, I have one honourable mention to make. I have recently shifted from Wellington, New Zealand, to London. My favourite tiramisu in Wellington was, I think, a pretty good version. It was basic, perhaps a little too creamy, and maybe lacking in the alcohol department, but it was nevertheless good. This tiramisu is handmade and put in a little plastic tub, which you eat with plastic spoons after devouring some yummy hot pizza, in your car overlooking the stormy Wellington waterfront. Check out Pizza Pomodoro if you are in Wellington, and make sure you get the tiramisu for dessert! (They also do a lemon tiramisu, come to think of it).