Photos by Josh Keown
Love it or hate it, ricotta just may be the most versatile cheese found in pizzerias today. Not only is it used in pasta dishes, but it can also be found atop pizzas and in rich, delightful sauces and desserts. It’s important to understand what ricotta comes from and how it’s made. Ricotta is Italian for “recooked” — it is made by “cooking” whey. It makes delicious lasagna, ravioli stuffing, gnocchi, cannoli, cheese-stuffed shells and even a great treat that both of my grandmothers used to make me called cheese blintzes (cheese filled crepes). Naturally, I’d be a fool if I didn’t mention how great pizza is with dollops of ricotta baked on it.
Many of us who have been blessed to learn how to make our own homemade fresh mozzarella at International Pizza Expo have learned that fresh milk has an enzyme added to it to separate the curds and whey. It’s that curd that we can buy to then make our own mozzarella. So, what about the whey? Well, it is then cooked to make ricotta.
Like types and styles of pizza crust and sauce, there are many different kinds of ricotta. There’s whole milk and part skim, with an obvious difference in the fat content. But there are also different textures you can find in ricotta cheese. Many ricottas can be a little bit grainy, and they are suitable for making lasagna, ravioli, manicotti or stuffed shells. Personally, I prefer a whipped, smooth ricotta cheese. It’s more versatile and has a much better mouth feel.
In order to use your ricotta cheese for both pasta dishes and desserts, it makes more sense to buy just one type. Ask your vendor to provide you with samples of the various ricottas they carry so that you can try them out for yourself.
For lasagna, manicotti, stuffed shells and ravioli, I like to season my ricotta with salt, pepper, garlic and Italian seasonings. I call my lasagna “Four- Cheese Lasagna” and find it much easier to assemble with all the cheeses in the filling instead of layering each cheese as I’m making the lasagna. For that reason, I add Parmesan, diced or shredded mozzarella and provolone cheeses to my ricotta filling. I fi nd it important to add a few eggs to this mixture to bind it together once it’s cooked.
There is superfine ricotta cheese available with very low moisture designed for use in desserts. This cheese is designed to hold powdered or confectionary sugar well without getting too moist and loose. Mixing three pounds of this ricotta with one pound of powdered sugar and a couple of tablespoons of almond extract makes a perfect cannoli filling. With a pastry bag, I fi ll my cannoli shells and then dip the ends in mini chocolate chips.
I even attempted tiramisu with this smooth ricotta as a replacement for the traditional Mascarpone cheese — and it came out perfect. I like to make a big batch and freeze it. First, I whip four quarts of heavy cream. When it’s almost whipped all the way, I add two pounds of powdered sugar and three small boxes of instant white chocolate pudding powder mix (which acts as a stabilizer).
Next, I fold in six pounds of smooth ricotta. This completes my cream filling. Once that is ready, I brew a double strength pot of coffee and sweeten it with 3 pounds of sugar. I line two full two inch hotel pans with plastic wrap and assemble the tiramisu.
I start by lining each pan with ladyfinger cookies. I drizzle the sweet coffee mixture over the cookies. Next, I layer in some of the cream. I repeat the process until I have three layers of soaked cookies with three layers of the cream. This will fi ll two hotel pans. Then I freeze it all.
In order to get a clean cut on the tiramisu, pop it out of the pan while it’s still frozen and cut each yield into 28 squares. Wrap each piece individually and keep them frozen. Pull a few out per shift. Thaw them in the refrigerator. Serve each piece with a sprinkling of cocoa on top.❖
A Unique Twist
Gnocchi is a little dumpling that is usually made with potato. I find it so much easier to make with ricotta cheese, which yields a light dumpling. Simply add a few ingredients together to make a soft gnocchi dough. Here’s a recipe that’s quick and easy.
1 pound ricotta cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¾ cup fl our
1 teaspoon salt
Mix the ingredients together to form a soft dough. If it’s too sticky, add a little more fl our — a little at a time — until you can roll the dough out on the counter.
Roll it out into a rope form and cut even pieces. You can press them with your thumb, roll them over the back of a fork with your finger or roll them over a gnocchi board that puts lines on them. Boil them in salted water for about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain them and immediately toss them in your favorite sauce and serve.
There are virtually hundreds of sauce options. Garlic butter would be great, but if you really wanted to stick with a ricotta theme, you could mix some ricotta with marinara to make a tomato cream sauce. You can even make an untraditional Alfredo sauce by draining the gnocchi, tossing it with some melted garlic butter, a cup of ricotta, ½ cup of Parmesan and ½ cup of cream.
Jeffrey Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia, and is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and the Pizza Expo trade show family.
Desserts don't have to take a backseat on your menu
By Katie Ayoub
Photo by Josh Keown
“Desserts are a missed opportunity,” says Jeffrey Freehof, owner of The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia, and a resident expert at Pizza Today. In our September 2010 issue, he called out desserts as one of the five things every pizzeria should be making in-house. His advice is worth repeating: “Sure, there are a lot of great items you can purchase already prepared with a built-in profit margin,” he says, “but you can usually double your profit (or more) if you can make it yourself.” So, Pizza Today put out its feelers, looking for insight from operators who have created successful dessert programs by either going 100-percent homemade or, more commonly, using a clever combination of homemade, convenience products and prepared desserts.
At 75-seat Bella Vista Trattoria in Wilmington, Delaware, chef/co-owner Candace Roseo offers a rotating dessert menu of 12 Italian favorites. “We stay true to our brand and to our high standards, and to the way of life we knew growing up outside of Naples,” she says. Much of Bella Vista’s menu is produced in-house — from the bread and pizza dough to the pizza sauce and biscotti. “We have a weekly back-of-the-house prep already in place, and it’s manageable,” adds Roseo. “If you have the system set up, then homemade desserts can be much less expensive than those purchased from a purveyor.” But Roseo does rely on convenience products where appropriate. For the very popular cannoli, she buys the pastry shell, but makes the filling. “It’s just not practical for us to make the shells. We don’t want to fry them in the same fryers that we use for chicken and eggplant,” she says. For the restaurant’s traditional Calabrese cannoli filling, she combines ricotta with vanilla, confectioner’s sugar, candied citrus and mini chocolate chips.
Bella Vista’s tiramisu is made from scratch, but Roseo admits that it took them a while to get the system down pat. “We had to figure out packaging and storing, but we landed on the right equipment and method, and we’re really happy with the result,” she says. The prep cooks make the tiramisu in batches, then use a 13-inch by 9-inch heavy-duty resin sheet pan with a lid for storage (similar to a catering tray), freezing them until needed. They prep six trays a week, with each tray holding 15 individual servings. They thaw one tray for service, defrost one in the walk-in and have the rest on hand in the freezer.
Bella Vista tried making its granitas and ices in house, but decided to source them from an Italian purveyor instead. “It was a little more work than it was worth,” says Roseo. And with the sfogliatelle, Italian pastries that look like seashells, Bella Vista moved from making them in house to bringing them in unbaked. “You make them by hand,” says Roseo. “They’re hugely labor intensive. We had quality-control issues — for mass production it just wasn’t working.” They now bring them in frozen and bake them off for service.
At Piece Brewery & Pizzeria in Chicago, most of its desserts, such as the Supreme Cheesecake with Raspberry Sauce and the Chocolate Extreme Cake, are out-sourced. But, the signature Chocolate Pizza is homemade. “We don’t make most of our desserts, because they’re not a big part of what we do,” says Bill Jacobs, owner of this 220-seat eatery. “We sell pizza and beer.” Indeed, Piece has an onsite brewery and serves very popular New Haven-style pies. The chocolate pizza, inspired by silent partner Rick Nielsen’s (of Cheap Trick fame) trip to Italy, features pizza dough topped with Nutella 9 (chocolate-hazelnut spread) and mascarpone. Piece bakes it, slices it, and serves the whole pie for $11.95. It runs a 20 percent food cost. “It does really well for us and is so easy to execute,” Jacobs says.
For the staff at San Francisco’s Pauline’s Pizza, the homemade-dessert menu is a heartfelt extension of their core branding and mission statement. The eggs used in the desserts? Sourced from the chickens raised on property. “We also grow our own produce, source organic and make everything in-house,” says Mike Green, sous chef and chief ice-cream maker. “It’s who we are and our customers love us for it.” That customer base has been steady for the last 25 years. “Word of mouth keeps us successful,” says Green.
For Pauline’s seasonal sorbet trio, diners might find an expression of the season’s best melons with scoops of ambrosia melon, heirloom melon and kiwano melon. This pizzeria, which serves Californian-style pizza, runs a core dessert menu of five, including chocolate mousse and butterscotch pudding. Homemade ice cream is a star at Pauline’s, with seasonal favorites featuring homegrown fruits and nuts from the organic garden and ranch. “When you make homemade desserts, your customers know that you care what you’re putting on the plate,” he says.
Chocolate Chip Pizza
1 pound homemade pizza dough or purchased pizza dough
2 teaspoons butter, melted
¼ cup chocolate-hazelnut spread
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons milk-chocolate chips
2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts, toasted (optional)
Powdered sugar for dusting
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Roll out the dough to a 9-inch-diameter round. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan. Brush the dough with butter, then bake in a 450 F oven until crisp and golden, about 18 minutes. Immediately spread the chocolate-hazelnut spread over the pizza; sprinkle chocolate chips over top. Bake just until the chocolate begins to melt, about 1 minute. Sprinkle hazelnuts over the pizza. Dust with powdered sugar. Cut into wedges. Serve.
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Naperville, Illinois.
PHOTO BY JOSH KEOWN
Gelato –– that dense, creamy, wonderful Italian frozen dessert –– is not the exotic, foreign entity it once was. But although it has found its way onto restaurant menus across the country, it still offers menu distinction to operators. Flavors are limited only by imagination and range from the familiar chocolate and vanilla to the unique goat cheese-cashew caramel and apple cider. But, why consider gelato over ice cream, which has deeper roots with American consumers? For Italian restaurants and pizzerias, gelato offers a sweeter inroad to an authentic Italian experience. And today’s customers long for authentic experience and sense of artisanship. Extracted with a spatula instead of a scoop, gelato is often displayed in a case. It doesn’t sit, packed tightly into tubs, like its American counterpart. Rather, it stretches out in peaks and valleys, swirls and swoops and beckons with its dense creaminess. One marketing upside to gelato over ice cream is that it contains significantly less butterfat than ordinary ice cream (20 percent versus four to eight percent). And because gelato is churned more slowly, it has less air whipped into it, so it results in a denser and more intense product. Once the decision to carry gelato on dessert menus is made, operators must weigh the pros and cons of making it in house versus ordering it from a supplier.
At Joe Jo’s Pizza and Gelato in Ephraim, Wisconsin, location drove the decision to make gelato in house. Tucked away in Door County, the closest distributor is 70 miles away. “Although it was a big financial investment with the equipment, and it takes a big chunk of time to make, it’s worth it for us,” says Dick Luther, who co-owns this 90-seat pizzeria with his wife. They showcase 18 rotating flavors of gelato in a display case. “Our customers know that the gelato here is homemade,” he says. “It goes along with our homemade Cheese Merch pizzas and is an important distinction for our business. And it tastes wonderful. Because there’s less fat, flavors really come through. You’re not coating your taste buds with fat, so it’s a more intense experience.”
On Mondays, he and his wife typically make 25 batches that fill 10-pound containers. At wholesale, Luther says 10 pounds of gelato would cost $35. “We’re more than doubling our money on it,” he says, running a food cost of 20 percent. But making it takes up their whole Monday, starting at 8 a.m. and finishing at about 5 p.m. Stir-ins take the most time — adding marshmallow and chocolate chunks to the rocky road gelato, for instance. Luther and his wife took a gelato-making class before launching the business in May 2007. “I highly recommend taking a class! It can be challenging at first to get the formula and technique down,” he says. “They also guided us on pricing, so we could be profitable.”
Gelato makes up at least 10 percent of Joe Jo’s business (and in the summer, it’s at least 15 percent). It took the business three years to recoup the initial investment in gelato-making equipment, display case and supplies.
American Pie Pizzeria, Gelato and Juice Bar in Bridgehampton, New York, sources its gelato from a regional supplier. “Our main focus is pizza. Gelato is an accessory for us,” says Raj Sainani, owner of this casual 16-seat, 16-stand pizzeria. His display case shows off 12 flavors, all brought in from a dessert company in Fairview, New Jersey. Popular flavors range from mint chip (for the kids), caffe Bianco and tiramisu. He sells one scoop for $2.99 (additional scoops $1.99 each), a pint for $8.99 and a quart for $15.99. Sainani runs a 17 percent food cost. “The hardest thing to manage is the temperature,” he says. “If you don’t manage it well, you get freezer burn on the gelato and have to throw it out.”
Black Dog Gelato is a gourmet gelateria with two retail locations in Chicago. Apart from walk-in customers, chef/owner Jessica Oloroso also sells to more than 30 foodservice accounts, including the famed Girl & the Goat restaurant and The Drake hotel. Known for quality gelato and unusual flavor combinations, she says that gelato gives restaurant operators a unique, quality product that the operator down the street doesn’t have. “By sourcing out, it’s like having an offsite pastry chef and gives you a product that has an in-house feel,” she says. Operators can choose from a vast array of flavors, such as malted vanilla or Mexican hot chocolate. Or she can create customized flavors. For instance, to pair with a chocolate cake at Girl and the Goat, she made a shiitake mushroom gelato (shiitakes, brown sugar, vanilla bean, cocoa nibs, butter).
She sells Black Dog’s gelato for one base price and says that, depending on serving size, one gallon will yield between 20 and 30 servings. The food cost, she says, is “well under $1 a serving.” To maintain the integrity of gelato, Oloroso recommends operators order small batches and have them delivered two to three times a week. “That way, your gelato will taste creamy with all of the bright flavors in tact.”
5 TRADITIONAL GELATO FLAVORS
5 "NEW" TRADITIONAL GELATO FLAVORS
CREAMY CHOCOLATE GELATO
Yield: 3 quarts
6 cups of whole
1½ cups of granulatedsugar
12 egg yolks, beaten
6 ounces of semisweet chocolate
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
In a large saucepan, combine half the milk with egg yolks and sugar.
Cook over very low heat until mixture sticks to the metal utensil, whisking continually. Add the chocolate, stirring until melted. Remove from heat; gradually mix in the remaining
milk and vanilla extract. Cover;
chill overnight or place the saucepan
in an ice bath until completely chilled. Freeze in a 5-quart ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions.
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She’s based in Naperville, Illinois.
Creative desserts boost check averages
BY KATIE AYOUB
PHOTO BY JOSH KEOWN
Gaining a competitive edge in today’s crowded market is more crucial than ever. Diners expect the moon and the stars — preferably locally sourced, homemade and at a great price. Desserts offer a great way to distinguish an independent from the chain restaurant down the street — or from the pizzeria around the corner. Look beyond the borders of the tried-and-true tiramisu and cannoli — a sweet world of menu distinction awaits.
At Twilight Pizza Bistro in Camas, Washington, all eight desserts are made in-house, and a couple of the desserts change out seasonally. “Calling out ‘fresh daily’ and ‘homemade’ on your desserts really helps your positioning,” says Jess McColum, manager of the 50-seat gourmet pizza shop. And the dessert menu boasts unique items, such as the bestselling Sugar Cookie Sundae. It hits the sweet spot of unique, but familiar — making it memorable and craveable. Tillamook vanilla ice cream gets a drizzle of caramel-Bourbon sauce, a sprinkling of sea salt and then a nice homey touch of fresh-baked sugar cookies. It sells for $4.25 and runs a low food cost. “You’re using basic ingredients and making it yourself, so it gives you a good return,” says McColum. “It’s our bestselling dessert with good reason — you get a fantastic combination of flavors and textures presented in a familiar sundae.” Those homemade sugar cookies featured in the sundae? They’re also available at the restaurant for 75 cents each.
Seasonal desserts include a fruit crisp and a cheesecake. At press time, they were featuring a chocolate-raspberry cheesecake and a rhubarb crisp. For the latter, the rhubarb is tossed with sugar, butter and spices, then placed on a cinnamon-infused individual pie crust and baked until ready. For service, it’s topped with Tillamook vanilla ice cream and homemade raspberry sauce. It sells for $5.75.
“It’s very hard to leave our store without a dessert,” says Tony DiSilvestro, co-owner of YNot Pizza, which has four stores in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Indeed, this New York style pizzeria boasts just under 30 desserts, including 30 different flavors of homemade gelato.
Bestsellers include a four-layer chocolate cake with chocolate butter icing and a carrot cake studded with carrot, pineapple and pecans, and layered with a cream-cheese frosting. Both sell for $5.95. Diners can order Italian cookies, paying $2.50 per quarter pound. Most of the desserts are brought in from gourmet bakeries. “We just can’t make them better than these specialty bakers,” says DiSilvestro.
Although it’s difficult to compete against the chocolate cake, YNot Pizza added a contender to the menu about a year ago. Selling for $5.95 is the simple Italian dessert affogato. “We parade it around the dining room, and it garners a lot of attention,” he says. “It’s unique, and once diners try it, they love it.”
Affogato, stemming from the Italian word for “drowned,” traditionally sees vanilla gelato or ice cream topped with a shot of hot espresso. Here, DiSilvestro starts with 3½ ounces of housemade stracciatella gelato (vanilla with chocolate shavings). He pours a shot of espresso over top, then finishes the dessert with whipped cream, chocolate sauce and a lace cookie. It runs a food cost of 20 percent. “It was hard to promote at first because it’s not commonly seen over here,” he says. “We took a picture of it from our trip to Florence, Italy, last summer. We put that picture on the menu and pushed it out across all four restaurants.” He also offers a version featuring decaf espresso.
At Tomato Pie Pizza Joint in Los Angeles, diners can choose from 10 desserts—all out-sourced from both a local specialty baker and a larger bakery. “We find it more economical, efficient and consistent to outsource,” says Garrett Policastro, owner of this 70-seat, two-unit concept that features hand-tossed New York-style pizza. Its two bestsellers hail from the specialty baker. No. 1 seller, outselling the ever-popular cheesecake? A red velvet cake filled with honey-infused cream-cheese frosting. The cake arrives at Tomato Pie pre-sliced and individually wrapped in wax paper. A slice costs $1.75 and Policastro charges $3.50 each. Chocolate chip cookies ring in at No. 2. They are 5-inches wide and feature a dusting of fleur de sel on the bottom. They cost $1.25 each and run on the menu for $2.25. “There’s a reason these specialty desserts from the local baker sell so well — they are delicious and they are unique,” he says. Answering whether or not his diners care if the desserts are homemade, “We’re a fast casual. People want dessert as a quick, sweet accompaniment. Is it affordable? Is it delicious?” he says. “No one asks if we make them in-house.”
Diners at Tomatoes A Pizza in Farmington Hills, Michigan, only have one option for dessert. What started as an add-on to the lunch buffet has now been added to the menu. “We wanted to have refinement in what we sell, so we didn’t want a long list of desserts,” says Michael Weinstein, owner. But, the chocolate piadina was just too popular and too easy to produce to ignore. Inspired by celebrity chef Mario Batali’s ham and cheese piadina (an Italian flatbread), Tomatoes’ version sees dough spread with Nutella, folded in half, then baked for a few minutes. The air gets pressed out, then it’s cut into portions. Weinstein charges $8 for a small, which serves two people, and $15 for a large, which serves four or five. He runs a food cost of 25 percent. “I took it off the menu at one point because I didn’t see it as a serious dessert,” he says. “But it’s back. It’s delicious. It’s ridiculous. That’s the thing with dessert — you make it craveable and people remember it.”
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
If there were an Italian dessert hall of fame, cannoli would surely be in it (along with tiramisu, gelato and ricotta cheesecake).
The word “cannoli” is as recognizable and understood as the word “pizza.” It has to do with the broad appeal of the product. Everyone, from kids to senior citizens, loves cannoli. Cannoli’s (the word translates as “pipes”) appeal, the way I see and eat it, has to do with the two components that make it up – cookies and cream. The shell is the cookie, the filling is the cream. And then, just to slap a little more “icing” on the “cake” there are add-ins like chocolate chips, pistachios, liqueur, golden raisins and candied fruit that broaden the appeal even further.
The cannoli shell, which is basically a fried pastry, can be made in house, but I wouldn’t advise it. The labor and cost involved is just not worth it. There are many good suppliers of pre-made cannoli shells (standard or enrobed in chocolate).
The filling, on the other hand, is another story. The cream filling is easy to make and has a reasonable shelf life (though it goes together so quickly it can easily be made every day as part of the overall prep). And by making your own filling it allows you to jazz the cannoli up with one or more of those add-ins.
In fact, I am waiting for some restaurant to set up a cannoli bar. Much like ice cream stores, a cannoli bar allows the customer to visually select a cannoli shell (standard or chocolate coated) and whatever add-ins (chocolate chips, raisins, nuts, candied fruit, diced fresh fruit, etc.) that they would like for their cannoli.
The secret to a great cannoli has as much to do with the shell and the cream filling as it does the procedure, which is as simple as filling the shell to order. The shell must remain crispy for a cannoli to be first-rate. In other words, if the filling is piped into the shell too far ahead, the shell gets soggy. Not good. Fill to order is the way to go with cannoli.
Yield: Enough filling for 12 standard size cannoli shells
1 pound ricotta cheese
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
Whip the ricotta cheese with a mixing spoon. Add the confectioners’s sugar and vanilla extract and whip again. Fold in the chocolate chips.
Place the filling in a pastry bag fitted with a very large star or open tip. Refrigerate until ready to use. To order, pipe the filling into the shell (fill from both ends).
To garnish, dip each end of the shell into coarsely chopped unsalted pistachios. Dust the shell with powdered sugar. In place of the pistachios, you may also dip each end of the shell into melted milk chocolate.
Add 2 tablespoons orange, lemon or candied peel to the recipe for extra flavor.
Cassata, an Italian sponge cake, is one of the more lavish desserts in the Italian repertoire, and its provenance is traced to Palermo, Sicily. In its original form, there is a lot of time involved in making the actual cake, not to mention the various layers (and in some versions layer upon layer of ice creams) and adornments that go on top, to the point where the cake ends up looking like it just came from a beauty shop. Unlike the round, traditional round shape as was originally made, some cassatas are made in the form of a rectangle, square or box. It's interesting to note that the word "box" in Italian is "cassata,” and it is likely that the word "cassata" originated from this term.
I usually make a cassata sometime during the Christmas season, so my idea here is that you might offer this as a special dessert in December. And, if you can handle it, offer the whole cake to go for your customers who are having a holiday party or wish to bring along something special as a hostess gift.
The recipe below is easy to put together and properly deserves the “cassata alla Siciliana” designation. However, feel free to be creative. For example, instead of regular pound cake you could use a lemon pound cake. Using a liqueur is optional. In some of my versions of this delicious cake, I replace the candied fruit with drained crushed pineapple (about 1/4 cup in the recipe below).
CASSATA ALLA SICILIANA
Yield: about 8 generous servings
1 fresh pound cake, about 9-inches long x 3-inches wide
1 Pound ricotta, drained of any excess water
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons Amaretto (optional)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped candied fruit
Square up the pound cake by slicing off the ends (and level the top if it is rounded). Cut the cake horizontally into 1/2-inch slabs.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the ricotta, cream, confectioners’ sugar, and the optional Amaretto. Fold in the candied fruit.
On a large platter lay the bottom slab of the cake and spread a portion of the ricotta mixture over it completely. Place another slab of cake on top, keeping the sides and ends even. Spread on more of the ricotta mixture. Repeat until you have put together all of the cake slabs and the filling has been used up, ending with a plain slice on top. Press down gently on the loaf to compact it a bit (once it is chilled it will firm up).
Refrigerate the cassata for at least 2 hours or overnight (a 2-3 day shelf life is about right) before adding the chocolate frosting.
12 ounces semisweet chocolate cut into small pieces
3/4 cup espresso or strong black coffee
½ pound chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inches pieces
In a heavy sauce pan set over low heat, combine the chocolate and the coffee. Beat constantly until the chocolate is completely melted. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter piece by piece. Keep beating until the mixture is smooth. Chill the frosting to a spreadable consistency. Using a small spatula, spread the frosting over the top, ends, and sides of the cassata. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 12 hours before slicing and serving.
More restaurants need to step up to the plate (so to speak) when it comes to desserts. Why? Because you lose income (lower check average) if you don’t. Why? Because you increase customer satisfaction.
Absolutely, there are a gazillion desserts –– many of them quite good –– that you can purchase from suppliers that are ready to go. But those of you who follow me know that I am always preaching the sweet satisfaction that comes along with having at least one special dessert that is made in house.
Who doesn’t love chocolate cake? Here is a recipe for a chocolate cake that is easy to make yet is quite delicious. Give this luscious cake the Italian name –– torta di cioccolata –– not only because it sounds better, but it helps to enhance the idea of quality foods in y our restaurant. You will notice that there is no flour in the recipe (the half-cup of flour is used to dust the pan), so in essence this is a version of a flourless chocolate cake. All you have to do now is have your servers say: “Our chocolate cake is made right here in house, and it is delicious.” Those are words so sweet it makes it hard for any customer to resist ordering a slice (or two).
This torta gets its richness and flavor from not only the chocolates in the recipe, but the coffee. If you want to enhance the flavor even more, use espresso (regular or decaf). You will find that the consistency of the torta is similar to that of a mousse (though a bit thicker).
Makes one 9-inch torta (scale up in direct proportion)
1 pound unsalted butter
½ cup flour
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup brewed coffee (espresso or regular)
10 ounces semisweet chocolate
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Fit a 9-inch springform pan (or deep-dish pizza pan) with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Lightly grease the foil with butter. Put the flour in the pan to coat the butter all over by turning and tapping the pan. Tap out the excess flour.
In a large saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter. Add the sugar and the coffee and whisk to blend. Add the semisweet and unsweetened chocolate. Stir until the chocolate melts, whisk to combine.
Remove the pan from the heat and let the chocolate mixture cool slightly. Whisk in the eggs slowly to combine.
Pour the cake batter into the pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean and the top has a thin dry crust. Cool to room temperature. Keep the torta refrigerated.
To serve, slice into wedges. Dust a plate with cocoa powder or powdered sugar (or a combination of both). Plate the cake and dust the top with powdered sugar or serve with a dollop of whipped cream.
Everyone loves cookies. If you’re making your own, here are some tips that will allow you to customize taste and texture:
• For a crispy, crunchy cookie, use only white table sugar.
• For a softer texture, replace up to half the table sugar with either brown sugar or honey.
• Replace up to 1/4th of the water weight with whole eggs to make a thicker cookie with a brownie- or cake-like structure.
• To make chocolate cookies, replace 20 percent of the flour weight with the same amount of cocoa. Blend the cocoa in with the flour prior to adding the other ingredients in your recipe. Since cocoa absorbs liquid, however, additional water will be required. Take the amount of cocoa used and multiply by 1.5. That will tell you the amount of additional water you’ll need to add (above and beyond what your recipe already calls for).
Have fun with this “five-course” summer special: appetizer, salad, pizza, pasta, and dessert. I have a lot of recipes to cover, so let’s get right to it. Each of these recipes can be scaled up in direct proportion.
Mozzarella Cheese Puffs
These golden puffs are flavorful and fun. Kids, especially, love these. You just might have to move them from a special to the regular menu.
Makes 12 puffs
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
8 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 pound shredded mozzarella
Combine the flour and the salt. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter. Fold in the mozzarella cheese. Add the flour mixture and combine thoroughly. Shape the mixture into small balls (around the size of a golf ball) by rolling them in the palms of your hands and place on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F. Oven for 15-20 minutes or until the balls puff and are golden brown. Serve with a warm marinara dipping sauce.
Bean and Tuna Salad with Radicchio
A cool, light and refreshing salad that works particularly well in the summer months. Put layers of thinly-sliced fresh tomatoes on the plate to form a flavorful and colorful base on top of which you can portion the salad.
Makes 4 servings
2 ½ cups canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups coarsely chopped radicchio
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup water-packed Albacore tuna, drained, flaked
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium-size bowl, combine the beans, radicchio, onion, parsley, and tuna. Toss gently to combine. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, and vinegar until completely blended. Add salt and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss gently. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.
Pizza alla Funghi (Mushroom Pizza)
Earthy, flavorful, delicious. Call it a “Mushroom Lover’s” Pizza if you care to.
Makes one 14-inch pizza
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ pound shiitake mushrooms
½ pound portobello mushrooms, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
½ pound cultivated (white domestic), sliced about 1/8-inch thick
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 14-inch pizza shell
8 Ounces shredded mozzarella or combination of mozzarella and Provolone
In a large saute pan set over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil for 1 minute. Add the garlic and the mushrooms and cook and stir until the mushrooms give off their liquid, about 4 minutes. Add the oregano and combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn the mushrooms out of the pan and reserve (can be made several hours ahead).
Spread the mushroom mixture evenly over the pizza curst. Sprinkle on the cheese. Bake.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Mac ‘n’ Cheese is one of the hottest dishes around. And this is my version of this classic dish. I use a combination of cheeses instead of the usual sharp cheddar. But the all-important flavor kicks — dry mustard and cayenne — are still included.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
1 ½ teaspoons dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 Pound cavatappi or similar corkscrew shaped pasta
1/4 pound shredded provolone cheese
1/4 pound shredded Asiago cheese
1/4 pound shredded mozzarella cheese
1 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon dried oregano, crumbled
In a heavy sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking, for 3 minutes. Add the milk in a steady stream, whisking steadily, and bring to a boil. Add the mustard, cayenne, and salt, and whisk to combine. Whisking the sauce, simmer until it thickens, about 2 minutes. Set aside.
Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until it is almost al dente. Drain well.
While the pasta is cooking, preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a shallow 3- 4-quart baking dish.
In a large bowl, stir together the cooked pasta, white sauce, provolone, Asiago, mozzarella, and 1 cup of the Parmesan, then transfer the mixture to the buttered baking dish. Smooth off the top with a spatula.
In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, oregano, and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan and sprinkle it evenly over the pasta. (This recipe can be prepared several hours in advance, covered and put in the cooler. Bring to room temperature before baking.)
Bake the pasta in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is golden and the cheese is bubbling.
The standard trinity of Italian desserts consists mainly of tiramisu, cannoli, and gelato, so maybe it’s time to think outside the box. Here’s a quick and easy dessert that offers relief from that boring old box.
This is a dessert you can count on for whipping up (no pun intended) real fast. Creamy and rick-tasting with a mousselike consistency, it’s one that adults and children alike will enjoy. If you don’t have espresso in house, simply use strong black coffee (or even instant espresso coffee).
2 cups ricotta cheese (not low-fat)
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup espresso or strong black coffee, cooled
2 tablespoons sambuca (optional)
½ cup finely chopped pistachios
Put the ricotta, sugar, coffee and optional Sambuca in a food processor or blender and process until creamy and thick. Spoon the mixture into tall serving glasses and refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours, until thoroughly chilled.
Just before serving, sprinkle some of the chopped pistachios on top of each serving.
Another option to jazz up this dessert would be to fold mini-morsel chocolate chips into the cheese after it has been chilled.
I think it’s high time that we look a bit deeper into the riches that Italian sweet treats has to offer. It’s simple to take the easy way out –– not having to create, make and worry about desserts at all. But by doing so, you are not only losing revenue, you are losing customer satisfaction and good will. But there is a way that you can have your cake and eat it too. I am sure many of you bring in your desserts, and as long as you have a good supplier and the product meets your high standards, that’s the easiest way to go. But there’s nothing wrong with finding a good local bakery or small-shop operator to make classic and creative desserts just for you. In fact, it’s very effective.
Now then, suppose I give you a recipe for a delicious Italian dessert that is simple and easy to make. And what if you have the capacity to turn out this dessert in some sort of volume situation, one that allows you to sell it not only in your restaurant, but even the whole blooming cake to go. Think about the imprint that makes in the customer’s mind about your restaurant. The customer is at home and guess what? It’s your restaurant they are thinking about every time they take a bite of your delicious cake. There you go. Yes, you can have it and eat it, too. In fact, there’s the recipe:
Chocolate Hazelnut Pudding Cake (Gianduia)
Gianduia is a sweet chocolate containing hazelnut paste. It takes its name from Gianduja, a carnival character that represents in some fashion a typical Piemontese (region in Northeast Italy). In the Piedmont region of Italy, hazelnut confections can be found in every coffee house, candy store or sweet shop. The finished cake has a rich, chocolate molten appearance, is quite moist, and devilishly delicious. Nutella is the trade name of a hazelnut cream and is widely available.
Yield: 1 8 x 8 inch cake (scale up in direct proportion)
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
½ (One-half) cup milk
2 tablespoons canola oil or vegetable oil
½ (One-half) cup chopped hazelnuts
4 ounces semisweet chocolate morsels
½ (One-half) cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons Nutella
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 cup hot water
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and sugar. Add the milk and the canola oil and combine. Fold in the hazelnuts. Mix thoroughly.
Grease the bottom and sides of an 8 x 8-inch square pan with unsalted butter. Preheat oven to 350 F.
Put the chocolate morsels in a 2-3 cup Pyrex or glass measuring cup and microwave at medium power, stirring two or three times to melt the chocolate. In that same cup add the brown sugar, Nutella and cocoa powder. Mix to combine. Pour the hot water over the chocolate mixture and stir to combine. Pour the chocolate mixture over the batter in the pan.
Bake the cake in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes until it is set. Let cool. Cut into squares and serve with whipped cream or dust each serving with powdered sugar.
Molten lava cake –– you gotta love the name. But to shower even more love on that name, put the word “chocolate” in front of it. This beauty of this cake has been kicking around for a while, but it hasn’t lost any of its appeal. How could it? The very idea of chocolate on chocolate is hard to resist.
I am going to offer two recipes for your consideration. Both are quite easy to make, and both can be made well ahead. You will note that the first recipe makes eight individual servings. Should it happen that you don’t use all of them the day they are made, simply put those left in an airtight container in the cooler. Then simply reheat and garnish as needed — but I wouldn’t push the shelf life past three days.
Also, in the first recipe I give you a shortcut — instead of making the cake batter the long way, I use a boxed cake mix. The mix I prefer is Pillsbury “Moist Supreme Devil’s Food” Mix. One box (consumer sized at 18.25 ounces) is sufficient to make eight individual molten lava cakes.
Here is how it goes. Equipment needs are minimal. You will need eight 4-ounce porcelain ramekins. These ramekins are readily available and are very inexpensive (around a buck or less each). A hand mixer helps speed things along, but most of the time I use a whisk or a heavy spoon to beat the cake batter. Then it’s simply a two-step process, and both steps can be done ahead if necessary.
Having said that, and knowing how delicious these cakes are, it is now up to you and your wait staff to romance the goods. By romancing I mean bringing this decadent dessert to the attention of the customer and noting –– through table cards or menu highlights –– that the chocolate molten lava cakes are made in house. Add “made fresh daily” if that’s the case.
When it comes to presentation, place a cake on a dessert plate (top up). Dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar or cocoa powder. Add some sliced strawberries or a fresh raspberry or two, even whip cream to gild this tasty lily even more.
Once you taste the ganache used in the first recipe, you will want to double the batch and drop a dollop on top of each cake just before serving. Or warm the ganache enough to allow some casual drips of the ganache over and around the plate. Yes, more romance, but it’s just these kind of extra touches that you will need to up your check average (especially as customers continue to pull back from spending).
Chocolate Molten Lava Cake
Makes 8 servings
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped (or use chocolate morsels)
Combine the whipping cream and the corn syrup in a saucepan set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring to combine. Put the chocolate in a stainless steel bowl. Pour the simmering cream mixture over the chocolate and stir to combine and smooth out. Let sit for 5 minutes. Place the bowl in the freezer for 25 minutes (stir occasionally) until the ganache is firm and can be scooped with a spoon.
Butter and flour (shake out the excess) eight 4-ounce ramekins. Set the ramekins on a sheet pan. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Make the cake batter. Follow the package instruction (you will need vegetable oil, eggs, water) on the chosen cake mix box.
To assemble: Fill each ramekin with about 3 tablespoons of the cake batter. Make a well in the center by pushing the batter up the sides (the bottom of the ramekin should not be visible however).
Scoop 1 tablespoon of the ganache into the center of the batter of each ramekin.
Spoon another 2 tablespoons (about) of the cake batter on top of the ganache, the point being to “seal” the ganache between two layers of the cake batter. The batter should come up to about 1/4-inch from the top of the ramekin.
Bake the cakes in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until tested clean or the cakes spring back lightly to the touch. Let cool for a minute or two.
You can serve at once, by removing the cake from the ramekin (run a knife around the edges to loosen) and then plating and garnishing it. Or leave the cakes in the ramekin for later use (you will need to reheat the cakes a bit before serving). Unmold and garnish as needed.
Molten Lava Cakes
This recipe does not use a ganache center, so the “molten” aspect is not as impressive. On the other hand, the serving portion is slightly larger. These cakes will not hold as long as in the previous recipe, so I would advise making them the same day of service.
Makes 6 servings
8 1-ounce squares semisweet chocolate
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
3 large eggs
3 egg yolks
Butter and flour six 6-ounce ramekins or custard cups. Preheat the oven to 425 F.
Melt the chocolate with the butter over low heat or in a microwave. Add the flour and the sugar to the chocolate mixture. Combine the eggs and egg yolks and add to the chocolate mixture. Beat until smooth.
Put the custard cups on a baking sheet. Divide the batter evenly among the custard cups. Bake for about 15 minutes. The edges should be firm and the center just a bit runny.
To serve, run a knife around the edges to loosen the cake. Invert onto a dessert plate dusted with powdered sugar or cocoa powder. Garnish with whipped cream or fresh fruit.
While we don’t usually think of cheesecake as being Italian, it has been an important part of the sweet endings to many Italian meals for centuries. And, as it goes with all things Italian, there are as many versions of torta di ricotta as there are regions in Italy. The variations from region to region are very subtle though. In Sicily, for example, citrus peel –– lemon and orange –– is an important part of this sweet treat. In the Emilia-Romagna region it might be that pine nuts are added. Raisins soaked in rum might be a part of a torta di ricotta in Rome.
The beauty of a ricotta cheesecake is that it is so simple to make. A fine tasting ricotta cheesecake can be put together with but six ingredients, and that recipe follows. Or, it can be more complex when made with a special pastry crust (or a light crust made from bread crumbs, graham crackers or amaretti cookies that have been finely ground). But when it comes to Italian cheesecake, simple is better.
The important trend in Italian restaurants right now is known as “a mano” or handmade, so give your hand a try at making this delectable cheesecake. Your customers will give you a round of applause after one bite (and cheesecake delivers well too).
Easy Ricotta Cheesecake
Yield: About 8 portions
2 pounds ricotta (drained of excess water)
1½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
10 large eggs
• Butter and lightly flour a 10-inch spring form pan. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
• Combine the ricotta, sugar and orange zest and whip to a smooth consistency. Add the vanilla extract. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating each into the batter to blend until the batter is smooth and free of lumps.
• Pour the mixture into the spring form pan. Bounce the pan gently on the work surface to smooth out the batter. Place the pan on a sheet pan and put it on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes; time will vary relative to type of oven (deck, convection). If the top is browning too fast, cover the pan with aluminum foil.
• Test to see if it is done by sticking a piece of spaghetti or a toothpick into the center of the cake. If the spaghetti comes out clean, the cake is done.
• Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake to rest, with the door ajar, for another 25 minutes (this step allows it to settle).
• Take the cheesecake out of the oven and bring to room temperature. Sprinkle generously with the confectioner’s sugar. Serve in slices, on a chilled plate dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Serve with a lemon sauce swirl (combine lemon juice with confectioner’s sugar and water to a pouring consistency) on the plate (optional).
Variations: Add golden raisins that have been plumped in hot water and drained. Add honey (about 2 tablespoons to the batter) if you want a sweeter cheesecake.
The idea of sweet pizzas, which involve a sweet sauce in some fashion, is a relatively new direction on the culinary highway. I devoted a chapter to "Dessert Pizzas" in my cookbook, The Ultimate Pizza Cookbook, which came out in 1995. In that book I provided recipes for six different dessert pizzas.
The standard technique I have developed for making a dessert pizza does not involve making any special types of dough. In fact, I use my basic dough recipe (flour, yeast, salt, water) to make all types of dessert pizza. The trick (and it is part of the dessert pizza recipes that follow) is to brush some type of fruit jam or preserve over the entire crust. Presto! Sweet pizza dough.
In some respects, I suppose we need to inject the idea of the Hawaiian pizza into this mix, because it happens to be quite popular. The popularity of Hawaiian pizza has to do with the simple idea of the sweetness of the pineapple playing off the smokiness of the ham (or Canadian bacon). The deal here, however, is that a typical Hawaiian pizza uses a basic pizza sauce, so there is nothing going on as it pertains to a sweet sauce. Nevertheless, I am providing a recipe for this popular pizza.
Now, though, the pendulum of pizza has swung in yet another direction and that is the focus of this article: How to fashion a few pizzas using a sweet sauce that takes the idea of pizza to another level of flavor. Let’s face it –– if your customer has just finished off an extra-large sausage and pepperoni pizza, the idea of a dessert pizza just might be one pizza too far.
What I am going for here is a way to straddle that line between a pizza with a sweet sauce, as in, say, a sweet and sour pizza, and still find a place for a tasty dessert pizza, so I am also including a recipe for a very tasty peanut butter and banana pizza.
Without further ado, then, here are three recipes to get you going on the idea of taking your pizza menu to yet another level.
Hint: when making this style of pizza I like to raise the edge of the crust by pinching and pulling it up to form a border. This gives this style of pizza a unique and pleasing look.
There are many versions of Hawaiian pizza. Generally, though, it’s the idea of pineapple and ham. In this version, I like to lay down the sauce then half of the cheese, next the pineapple, then the remaining cheese. This way the cheese insulates the tomatoes from any excess moisture coming off the pineapple.
Should you wish to move a Hawaiian pizza to a more luxurious level, replace the ham with thin slivers of prosciutto.
Yield: one 14-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion)
1 14-inch pizza shell. Press and form a 1/2-inch border around the crust
6 ounces pizza sauce or all-purpose ground tomatoes
10 ounces low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella
8 ounces pineapple tidbits (drained)
4 ounces coarsely chopped ham or Canadian bacon
Spread the pizza sauce evenly over the crust up to the formed border. Spread half of the mozzarella over the sauce. Spread the pineapple evenly over the mozzarella. Spread the ham evenly over the pineapple. Add the remaining mozzarella. Bake and serve.
Sweet and Sour Pizza
If you have ever had sweet and sour chicken in an Asian restaurant you will understand the idea behind this pizza. I sometimes replace the chicken with small chunks of cooked pork, so in that regard you could actually use the Italian sausage you have in house with this recipe.
Yield: one 14-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion)
For the sweet and sour sauce combine the following:
6 ounces all-purpose ground tomatoes or tomato puree
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained
2 tablespoons white vinegar
8 ounces cooked chicken chunks or tidbits
1/2 cup chopped scallions (white part only)
6 ounces low-moisture, part-skim shredded mozzarella
Spread the sauce over the crust up to the formed border. Sprinkle the chicken over the sauce. Sprinkle on the mozzarella. Bake and serve.
Banana and PB Pizza
This sweet pizza that’s a big hit with children (and adults, as well). The caramel sauce adds a luxurious touch of flavor. Another luxury option is to sprinkle chopped walnuts or pecans on the pizza after it comes out of the oven.
Yield: one 14-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion
1 14-inch pizza crust
3 tablespoons strawberry jam, heated or microwaved to a spreadable consistency
3 rounded tablespoons creamy peanut butter, heated or microwaved to a spreadable consistency
3 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced Crosswise ½-inch thick
1/4 cup caramel sauce, made in house (recipe follows) or store-bought
With your fingers, press and form (or braid) a 1-inch border around the crust.
Brush the crust including the border with the jam. Spread the peanut butter evenly over the crust up to the border. Arrange the bananas evenly over the peanut butter. Drizzle the caramel sauce over the bananas. Bake. Let cool for several minutes before cutting and serving. Can be made ahead and served at room temperature.
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup whipping cream or half-and-half
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and cook over low heat until the mixture boils. Let simmer gently for three minutes. Use at once or refrigerate for up to 20 minutes before using. The sauce will keep in the cooler, covered, for several weeks. It thickens when chilled, so you may need to keep it on the steam table, heat it or leave it at room temperature for about one hour before using.
Mascarpone (mahs-kar-POH-neh) is not actually a cheese (no starter or rennet is used to produce it), but it is always included in the cheese family when the subject of relatives come up. And in the Italian arsenal of cheeses it stands tall. A rich and lush cow’s milk cheese, mascarpone is double or triple cream, which means heavy-duty milk fat (up to 75 percent). The beauty of this cheese lies not only in its richness and incomparable goodness but also in its versatility. As you will note below, I have used mascarpone in a simple application pertaining to a couple of pasta dishes; however, mascarpone is an essential and important ingredient when making tiramisu.
Mascarpone will hold its own in a simple dessert in which fresh berries are folded into it. I like to add some confectioner’s sugar to mascarpone, whip it until it is creamy-smooth, then layer it in a parfait glass with slices of fresh strawberries. Another way I use mascarpone is to swirl a tablespoon (or two) into a tomato sauce for pasta. The mascarpone gives the tomato sauce a luxuriously rich flavor (the idea is that it cuts some of the acidity in the tomatoes).
Domestic brands of mascarpone are every bit as good (and a lot less expensive) as imported brands, so buy locally.
This recipe follows closely that of how tiramisu was made in the beginning (using a custard or zabaione). Also, this was the way I taught students to make it at my cooking school. There are many shortcuts to making this great dessert, but if you take the long way home your customers will be, as the word “tiramisu” implies, lifting you up with praise.
4 extra-large egg yolks
1 whole egg
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon dry Marsala
8 ounces mascarpone
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
8 ounces espresso or brewed strong coffee, cooled
24 ladyfingers (savioardi)
Make the zabaione. Put the egg yolks, the whole egg, and the sugar in a double boiler arrangement over simmering water. Whisk the eggs constantly until they thicken into a light custard. Add the Marsala and combine. Whisk a bit more. Turn the zabaione out of the bowl into a pan to cool.
Cream the mascarpone. Set aside. Beat the whipping cream to the soft peak stage. Add the sugar. Beat to the stiff peak stage.
Fold the mascarpone into the whipped cream, then fold that mixture into the cooled zabaione.
Assembly: Use a pan or glass dish that is about 8 inches by 8 inches. Working one by one, dip a ladyfinger into the cooled espresso. A quick dip in and out (the ladyfingers will absorb more of the coffee than you think) works best.
Put a thin layer of the zabaione cream over the bottom of the pan. Fit 12 ladyfingers into the pan (trimming as needed). Layer half of the remaining cream mixture over the ladyfingers.
Fit 12 more ladyfingers into the pan (dipping each into the espresso first). Layer in the rest of the cream mixture and smooth it out.
Screen (sift) the cocoa powder liberally over the top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill overnight (or at least 4 hours). Serve in squares portioned to about two and one-half inches square.
Tiramisu & Chocolate Martini
This tasty dessert goes together in a few simple steps, since the zabaione or custard is left out. The presentation is quite dramatic and the flavor is quite delicious. Use a deep martini glass or any type of deep ice cream glass.
Using the same techniques I described in the Classic Tiramisu recipe, combine the mascarpone with the whipped cream (the stiff peak stage). Just before serving, dip one end of each ladyfinger in the espresso. Space four ladyfingers into a deep martini glass (dipped end down) leaving the center (a crater effect) open.
Spoon the mascarpone mixture into the center of the glass, filling the glass (depending on the size about three-fourths of the way). Shave curls of semi-sweet chocolate over the cream mixture. Serve at once.
Fusilli with Mascarpone and Prosciutto
The silky richness of the mascarpone cheese mingling with the sweetness of the prosciutto is the flavor center of this dish. The mascarpone is dropped over the cooked pasta in tablespoons, and mixed into the pasta just to coat. The complement to this dish is the elegant prosciutto di parma; it stands on its own delicate flavor, so no cooking is necessary.
Yield: 4 servings as a first course (scale up in direct proportion)
3/4 pound fusilli or other spiral-shaped pasta
3 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup mascarpone cheese
¼ pound prosciutto, sliced thin and chopped coarse
freshly ground pepper, to taste
Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain thoroughly.
Put the cooked pasta into a sauté pan set over medium-high heat.
Add the butter and stir to combine. Add the Parmesan and stir once more to combine. Add the mascarpone, dropping it in dollops over the pasta. Toss gently just to combine. Add the prosciutto and combine with the pasta.
Portion among four heated pasta bowls. Serve.
You can use this basic idea to create a pasta dish with four cheeses. Once the pasta has been cooked, add it to the sauté pan. Add the butter. Blend in a combination of cheeses (I use ¾ cup of mascarpone, ½ cup crumbled Gorgonzola, ½ cup grated Asiago, and 2 ounces Parmesan).
Cook and stir until the cheeses have blended. You don’t need to use any heavy cream (that’s a dish for another time); the combination of cheeses will carry the dish Portion among four heated pasta bowls. Serve.