Friday, 19 August 2011

Pick-me-up

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).

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