29 October 2015

AUNTIE PASTA: Tiramisu, I Love You

CHIAVARI, Italy –A few years back, when I lived in Milan, I worked for Women’s Wear Daily, a fashion newspaper based in New York. As a journalist, I never worked alone.  None of the journalists did, nor do they now. We were always assigned photographers and while all the photographers were nice, my favorite was Davide Maestri.  
Treviso, 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, 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, Lake Como and lots of places in between. I really liked working with him, he was the consummate professional but he had one little quirk. He wouldn’t eat in a restaurant  unless they had tiramisu’ on the dessert 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.
Antico Ristorante Le Beccherie  
I often teased him about his passion and said that he and I should write a book about tiramisu, but he didn’t care about writing a book or even taking photos of it, he just liked to eat it. I confess, it’s okay as a dessert but I thought its history was interesting, even if much of the food history here in Italy is a bit muddled. The tiramisu story that I like best dates back to the late 1800’s and a bordello in the northern town of Treviso, a short distance from Venice.

It seems that the bordellos in Treviso were always trying to come up with ways to attract new clients, or steal them from their competition. When 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 beverages.
Le Beccheirie's Tiramisu  
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 Mascarpone cheese and eggs. She named her dish Tiramisu, which means “pick me up”, a tongue-in-cheek way of saying some of her clients may have need of a little “pick me up” 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 Antico Ristorante Le Beccherie which claims the dish was first prepared by the restaurant's  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 Le Beccherie, wanted to create a desert that would give her energy.  

 A Few Simple Ingredients
Truthfully, I think the bordello story is more credible because Ada could have just cooked up a pot of spinach or radicchio, which is one of the top crops in Treviso, and she would have had energy to spare. But it’s not for me to judge.  Instead, here are two recipes for tiramisu. The first recipe is from Giuliano Bugialli’s Classic Techniques of Italian Cooking. While Bugialli makes his own marscapone cheese and ladyfingers, trust me, if you buy good quality mascarpone and lady fingers, it will work just fine. The second is a video demonstration on how to make tiramisu, which you will find at the bottom of this page.

Giuliano Bugialli's Tiramisu

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 recipe, with just a couple of small differences. For example, the cook on the video does not toast the ladyfingers, but that may be because the ladyfingers sold in Italy are already toasty enough. I’m not sure. The video is from a very good Italian cooking site called Giallo Zafferano, and I’m sure Davide would give both of these recipe a thumbs up.

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