CHIAVARI, Italy – Half the fun of cooking in Italy is finding the stories behind the recipes – and as you all know by now – everything you eat in Italy has a story behind it - absolutely everything. Today’s recipe for zabaglione, a wonderfully simple dessert made of egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine is no different.
My love affair with zabaglione goes back a long way. Whenever my grandmother thought I was looking a little pale, she would whip up a glass of zabaglione and serve it to me as part of my afternoon snack, a sort of Italian smoothie. As I had my snack she would tell me stories about the brave doctors and nurses who were saving lives in far off Africa. Of course I had to take a bite of what she was feeding me in order to hear what happened next, but who wouldn’t want to know what happened when the doctors and nurses in Africa found a lion in the hospital? It was exciting stuff for a four year old. But the one story she wouldn’t have been able to tell me is the story of zabaglione. It’s definitely not suitable for four year old ears.
Actually there are several stories out there regarding the origin of zabaglione, but this is my favorite. This zabaglione story starts in the northern Italian province of Piedmont – home of the Slow Food Movement. It seems a Spanish monk, a certain Fra Giovanni de Baylon, arrived in Torino sometime in the late 1500’s, and was assigned to the church of San Tommaso, the same church that is still on the corner of Via Pieto Micca and Via San Tommaso.
One of the things Father Baylon brought with him from Spain was his favorite recipe of eggs and sugar fortified with a large dose of a sweet wine from Cyprus. He soon settled into his duties as pastor of San Tommaso church but after a few months of listening to the women of Torino complain about their husbands lack of interest in making love to them, Father Baylon started giving them his special egg, sugar and wine recipe telling them to feed it to their husbands. It will rejuvenate them, he told the signoras of Turin, and you will be as happy as a new bride.
Apparently it worked. In 1680 Father Baylon was sanctified by Pope Alessander VII and the people of Turin began proclaiming far and wide the wondrous rejuvenating recipe Father Baylon had given their city. Saint Giovanni de Baylon’s last name soon became San Bajon in Piedmontese dialect, which, when applied to his famous recipe was transformed to l’Sanbajon, and later Italianized to zabaglione. And that is how zabaglione became famous throughout the world and Saint Giovanni Bajon became Turin’s patron saint of food.
You can serve zabaglione with cookies, fresh fruit, whipped cream or with a little bit of story and lots of love.
8 egg yolks
100 ml of dry Marsala or Vin Santo
160 grams white sugar
Separate the 8 eggs, discarding the whites (or freeze them to use in other recipes). Put the sugar (1) and the egg yolks in an deep stainless steel bowl (that you can place over a bagnomaria), and whip them together with an electric mixer (3) until it forms a foamy, smooth almost white cream (4).
Slowly add the wine little by little continuing to beat the mixture so it absorbs the liquid (5). When all of the ingredients have been well mixed, place the bowl over simmering water (the bowl must not touch the water) and continue to beat the mixture for 10-15 minutes or until it becomes smooth and creamy and dense (6). At that point the zabalione is ready to serve.
If you prefer to serve it cold, remember to stir it as it cools in the refrigerator to avoid the wine from separating and settling on the bottom of the bowl.
It’s important that you use very fresh eggs and make sure the water in the bagnomaria just simmers and never boils, otherwise the texture of the zabaglione will be compromised.