03 October 2013


CHIAVARI, Italy –A few years back, when I lived in Milan, I worked for the fashion  newspaper Women’s Wear Daily. As a journalist, I never worked alone.  None of the journalists did, nor do they now. We were always assigned photographers and one of my favorite photographers was Davide Maestri. He was great to work with.  
 Hosteria del Sole, Bologna, Italy
Davide started working for WWD when the office in Milan first opened and he knew everyone in the business. He also knew all the ins and outs of the Italian fashion world. Women’s Wear Daily is owned by publishing giant Conde Nast, so his photographs made the front pages not just of WWD, but all the sister publications like W and Vogue Italia, as well as many other fashion magazines and newspapers in Italy and the USA, and they still do.

We covered a lot of assignments together, years of assignments, not only in Milan but in Florence, Bologna and lots of places in between. I really liked working with him, he was the consummate professional but he had one little quirk. He didn’t like to eat in a restaurant that didn’t have tiramisu’ on the menu. He loved tiramisu. He was mad for tiramisu, so much so that over the years he had become a tiramisu expert. No matter what city we were in, he knew which restaurants made the best tiramisu, and why it was the best, and what was wrong with the tiramisu of the other restaurants who didn’t make the cut.
 Passion for Tiramisu
I often teased him about his passion and said that he and I should write a book on tiramisu, but he didn’t care about writing a book, he just liked to eat it. I confess, it’s okay as a desert but I’m much more interested in its history, and like so many things Italian, the history of tiramisu is a little muddled.  The most colorful story of its beginning dates back to the late 1800’s in a bordello in the northern town of Treviso, a short distance from Venice.

It seems that there was a lot of competition for clients between the bordellos of Treviso and as an incentive to attract clients, one bordello began offering a cup of espresso coffee to its patrons. The other bordellos in town soon followed suit. As competition heated up, some bordellos began offering savoiardi cookies (lady fingers) to dunk in the cups of espresso coffee, or a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage.
One enterprising Madam, who probably didn’t have a sufficient supply of savoiardi cookies on hand, decided to combine the cookies with the coffee and bind it together with Marscarpone cheese and eggs. She named her dish Tiramisu, which means “pick me up” which some of her clients may have needed after visiting the “ladies” of the house. It may also have been an incentive to get the men up and out, instead of wanting to hang around and take a nap.

This story is highly contested by Treviso’s Trattoria Alle Beccherie which claims the dish was first prepared by their pastry chef, Loly Linguanotto, less than two decades ago. Their story is that back in 1970,  after the birth of her son, Ada Campoel, the owner of Alle Beccherie, wanted to create a desert that would give her energy.  The truth maybe somewhere in the middle as the Trattoria is in a very old building in the historic center of Treviso and the bordello in question may very well have been in the same building.
 Beccherie's Tiramisu
Here are two recipes for tiramisu. The first is from Giuliano Bugialli’s Classic Techniques of Italian Cooking. While Bugialli makes his own marscapone cheese and lady fingers, trust me, if you buy good brands of marscapone and lady fingers, it will work just fine.

Serves 12
8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate
24 ladyfingers*
2 cups of strong espresso coffee cooled
6 eggs separated
6 heaping tablespoons of granulated sugar
1 lb of marscapone

*if using store bought ladyfingers toast them in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes.

Chop the chocolate coarsely.

Put the ladyfingers on a plate and lightly brush them with the cold coffee 

Arrange half of the ladyfingers in a rectangular or oval dish, at least 2” high

Use a wooden spoon to mix the egg yolks together with the sugar in a ceramic bowl. Mix until the sugar is completely incorporated and the egg yolks have turned a lighter color. Then add the mascarpone and stir gently. In a copper (or glass) bowl beat the egg whites with a wire whisk until they are stiff. Gently fold the whiles into the mascarpone-egg yolk mixture.

Use half of this mixture to make a layer on top of the ladyfingers in the serving dish. Sprinkle with half of the chopped chocolate. Repeat the procedure to make another layer of soaked ladyfingers, the mascarpone mixture and the chopped chocolate.

Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

The second recipe is a video recipe (in English) that demonstrates another Tiramisu recipe. They are basically the same, with just a couple of small differences. For example, the cook on the video does not toast the ladyfingers, and truthfully, I don’t think it’s necessary either. The video is from a very good Italian site called Giallo Zafferano, and I’m sure Davide would give this recipe a thumbs up.

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