Tag Archives: italian

Tiramisu / lamington-misu

I think I’ve mentioned before that one of the odd but great things that has happened to me over the last year or so is that I’ve started liking almost all of the foods that I used to dislike and avoid. One of the most significant epiphanies was on eating my Uncle Mario’s superlative tiramisu. I not only started liking this dessert, I became positively obsessed with it.

So for my last birthday, spent in Italy, I asked Mario if he would make a tiramisu for me. In the end he not only made it, but taught me how it is done – such a perfect birthday present for someone like me!

Me receiving wisdom

The really genius part of this tiramisu recipe is the zabaglione. Cooking the egg yolks makes the cream so much more significant somehow: the flavour is much more complex and the texture much lighter. Other non-negotiables for this recipe are good coffee (preferably espresso) and high-quality savoiardi. The soft savoiardi that Mario uses were a revelation and I’ve been able to track some down here down under.

The final part of my story for today is set in Australia, because yesterday was Australia Day, which means compulsory barbequing and eating in this part of the world. When I was thinking about what to take to the event we went to I was split between making a tiramisu and the urge to do something with an Australian theme. I eventually had my second epiphany associated with this dessert and decided to make a lamington-misu.

Lamingtons

This was a fairly straight variation on the main recipe, using lamington fingers instead of savoiardi and skipping the cocoa layers (as the lamingtons already have chocolate icing). It was good fun, tasted good and was a great gimmick for our national day, but I have to say the classic beats my experimental version every day!

Tiramisu – the superlative classic version as taught by Mario

120g caster sugar
4 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons Marsala or Amaretto
500g Mascarpone
500ml-ish fresh coffee, sweetened to taste
Cocoa (pure, no sugar)
400g-ish Savoiardi biscuits (weight needed will depend on the size of the biscuits, your dish etc etc. The soft ‘morbidi’ version are far superior to the dried)

1. First make a zabaglione. In a heatproof bowl mix the 4 egg yolks with 60g sugar and the Marsala/Amaretto. Set the bowl tightly over a pot of simmering water and whisk like crazy until the eggs become a light colour and foamy. It’s ready when the consistency is like pouring custard and there is no raw egg taste.

2. Quickly mix the zabaglione with the mascarpone.

Mascarpone + zabaglione = pure delight

3. Beat the egg whites until they are foamy, then add the other 60g sugar until you have soft peaks. Gently combine the mascarpone and the egg whites. This is your heavenly cream mixture.

4. Get yourself organised with: a large serving dish; a shallow dish for dipping the biscuits in coffee; the cocoa and a sieve.

5. Dip the savoiardi into the coffee and turn then add to your serving dish until you have one layer of biscuits. Spread a layer of the cream mix over the top and then add a thorough dusting of cocoa. Repeat this in layers until you finish with cocoa on top – three full layers is a good guide to aim for.

Sausage and chickpea pasta bake (pasta al forno)

This dish is a bit of celebration of things I didn’t used to like, but have come to terms within the last few years. I’ve always associated sausages with the fatty, odd-tasting beef ‘sangas’ that grace the typical Aussie barbeque.

Celery is just something I never understood until I started adding it to stews and soups. The little bit in this recipe adds a very definite layer of flavour. I’ve also overcome the hassle of all the washing and chopping involved in celery by prepping a whole bunch at a time and freezing a container of pre-diced celery. I just pull some out and throw it straight in the pan and it’s fine – plus there’s a lot less waste.

Then there are pasta bakes, which, to be honest I always thought were just a bit tacky. I thought they were a bit of a cheat food – you know, add a jar of cheap sauce to some pasta and throw in the oven – ick. (NB I’m aware that there are several tinned ingredients in the list below, but I do live in the real world and I truly couldn’t live without tinned tomatoes and chickpeas.)

Anyway, after visiting Italy I realised that pasta al forno was actually quite traditional, and could be really delicious. In this dish the combination of rich tomato sauce, spicy sausages and creamy chickpeas is really divine.

Now, ingredients. There are three things you need to spend money on for this dish: the pasta, fresh parmesan and the sausages. I think that top-quality pasta is always worth buying, because even at $5 for 500g it’s an incredibly cheap meal by serve. I look for pasta made from durum semolina. If you can’t tell what it’s made of, the cooking time on the packet can be a good indicator of quality – anything less than 10 minutes is a bit suspicious.

Similarly, good  parmesan isn’t cheap, but it goes such a long way that per serve the cost is absolutely tiny. Meanwhile the sausages are here to give loads of flavour, so something spicy with top-quality meat is really worth buying. If you can’t get spicy sausages, add some chilli and paprika to the sauce.

I did a couple of quick sums and even with really nice pasta and sausages this dish cost less than $2.50 AUD per generous serve, which is cheap by almost anyone’s standards. It’s also very simple. I know the process and list of ingredients look long, but I’ve spelled this one out a bit because I’m thinking of a few friends who are beginner cooks with this one!

 Serves 6

Ingredients

Olive oil
400g ‘Italian-style’ sausages (spicy, with a mix of pork and beef)
½ red onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
½ stick celery, finely diced
2 x 400g tins tomatoes, chopped
500g tomato passata (tomato puree – not paste)
1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
pepper

500g dried pasta (large penne are great)
200g fresh mozzarella (sometimes called bocconcini here in Aus)
parmesan cheese

To make

Heat a large pot and add a little oil. When the oil is hot, use scissors to snip the sausages into small pieces, dropping the segments straight into the pan. Cook the sausage pieces in batches, browning all over, and remove onto a plate – instant meatballs!

If the bottom of the pot is too burned add a little water and scrape the worst off then pour it out. Add a little more oil and then the onions. Once they’ve softened add the celery and garlic and cook down for a few minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic.

Add the chopped tomatoes then cover the pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the tomato passata, sugar and vinegar. Cover, bring to the boil again and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Add the sausages, chickpeas and oregano and season with pepper – usually the sausages will be salty enough for the whole dish, particularly once the parmesan is added, so I don’t add any other salt. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile cook the pasta until it’s almost al dente (around two-thirds of the time quoted on the packet).

Now, I prepared this the day before I wanted to eat it, so I let the sauce and pasta cool down before I assembled everything. If you are doing that just make sure you coat the pasta in a little oil just after draining it, otherwise it’ll all stick together. If you want it now, ignore that – but I have to say that I think the overnight stopover really adds to this dish.

To assemble, take a deep baking dish and start with a thin layer of sauce. Add a single layer of pasta, then more sauce, a layer of mozzarella and a light grating of parmesan. Repeat until you end up with a final layer of cheese on top.

Bake at 180°C for around 20 minutes, or until the top is golden and crispy. Serve with a load of salad and enjoy!

J

Zesty Almond Biscuits and Zabaglione

When I googled ‘almond biscuits’ yesterday the second item that turned up (after the obligatory wikipedia page) was from the website of the Producers of McLaren Vale, with a recipe from my Mum! Freaky but true – I guess Google have really worked out who I am now.

So clearly this was the recipe I was after. I’ve followed it fairly exactly, but have added some orange zest and a dash of amaretto liqueur. These are honestly the easiest biscuits to make. There are very few ingredients, and no complicated processes – just mix, form and bake.

For the italophiles out there, these are also known as amaretti. The biscuits are crisp on the outside, but wonderfully chewy in the middle. They also happen to be the best accompaniment to an espresso in the world.

But the thing about this recipe is it only uses egg whites, so you have three egg yolks left over. This is your chance to make an unbelievably good Italian dessert – zabaglione with amaretti.

Zabaglione is kind of  like a custard, but very thick, almost like a mousse. It’s traditionally made with egg yolks, sugar and sweet marsala wine, but I like to make it with amaretto liqueur (are you sensing a trend). Amaretti biscuits dipped into hot zabaglione is, well, heavenly.

Three yolks makes just the right amount for two people, so if you’re feeding more just make more biscuits and you’ll have more egg yolks!

Before I get into that though, a quick note on blanching almonds. This is really easy, particularly when you have the beautiful Johnston almonds grown by my parents. This variety is typified by large kernels with thick, wrinkly skins.

To remove the skins you just need to soak the almonds in boiling water for a few minutes. After draining you’ll be able to pinch the skin off of the kernels in a trice.

Almond biscuits (Amaretti)

200g almond meal (I used ‘brown meal’ which is made from skin-on kernels)
1 cup castor sugar
1/2 cup plain flour
zest of 1/2 an orange
1-2 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
3 egg whites at room temperature
24ish whole blanched almonds

to make

Pre-heat your oven to 160°C and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.

In a large bowl, mix the almond meal, sugar, flour, orange zest and Amaretto liqueur. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until they are stiff, then mix the egg whites into the other ingredients. You should end up with a thick paste.

Form the mixture into balls, one tablespoonful at a time and place on the baking trays. Press one blanched almond into the centre of each biscuit and flatten the ball slightly.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, until the biscuits are just blushing with golden colour. When cooked, remove the biscuits immediately to wire racks to cool.

Zabaglione

3 egg yolks, at room temperature
50g castor sugar
1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur

to make

Get a few centimeters of water boiling in a pot. Pick a bowl that will sit well on top of your pot, then add all of the ingredients. Turn the pot down to a simmer then sit the bowl on top and whisk like crazy. Depending on how fit you are this may be a job for two people.

Your zabaglione is done when it is a lighter colour, fluffy and doesn’t have any raw yolk taste. This should only take a few minutes.

Pour the zabaglione into glasses (martini glasses are perfect because they are easy to dip the biscuits into), serve with some of your amaretti biscuits, and ascend instantly to a sugary heaven.

J