Tiramisu is an Easy Pick-me-Up

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Sweet, dark chocolate, strong, bitter espresso and a hit of syrupy marsala wine make tiramisu a perfect pick me up.
Sweet, dark chocolate, strong, bitter espresso and a hit of syrupy marsala wine make tiramisu a perfect pick me up.

Want a “pick-me-up”? That’s the meaning of tiramisu and with its potent hits of espresso and alcohol, it is the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

Tiramisu was one of the favorite dolci at my Providence restaurant back in the 80s. I hope you like it too. The hardest part of making it is beating the egg yolks and whipping the whites.

Just dip savoiardi (Italian lady-fingers) in strong espresso laced with Marsala wine and line them in a casserole dish. Top with a layer of fluffy mascarpone (an Italian “cream cheese”) enriched by bright yellow yolks and lightened by whipped egg whites that are as airy as clouds. Repeat and dust the top with bittersweet cocoa powder. Add a few curls of dark chocolate to take it over the top. Then comes the best part, the eating!

Tiramisu is a full flavor palette. The strong espresso and fortified Marsala wine permeate the savoiardi and give them a not too sweet cake texture. The light, sweet mascarpone cream melts in your mouth. The cocoa and nutty dark chocolate caps it all off. Enjoy all the flavors that come together in every single bite.

And if you like this one, also be sure to check out my recipes for torta di riso and panettone bread pudding.

Buon appetito!

Recipe note: I use raw eggs, the traditional tiramisu ingredient, from a local organic producer just across the Golden Gate Bridge in Petaluma. Just in case I soak the eggs in bleach before using them to minimize any possible contamination. I haven’t had a problem with raw eggs in the decades that I’ve made tiramisu this way. Read the raw egg notice under the recipe. And if you don’t want to use raw eggs there’s a substitute recipe for the mascarpone cream filling there too.

Tiramisu
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
  • 1 package savoiardi (lady finger cookies)
For the Dipping Liquid
  • 2 cups espresso
  • 3 tablespoons dry Marsala
For the Cream
  • 6 eggs
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 pound mascarpone
  • cocoa for dusting
  • chocolate for shavings on top
Instructions
  1. Put the espresso and Marsala in a shallow bowl and set aside.
  2. Separate the eggs. Put the yolks in one bowl and the whites in another.
  3. Add the sugar to the yolks. Using a hand mixer beat the yolks and sugar together until smooth and pale yellow.
  4. Add the mascarpone and with a rubber spatula mix it into the yolks until well blended.
  5. Whip the whites to a stiff peak.
  6. Add ⅓ of the egg whites to the mascarpone mixture and gently stir several times to lighten the mixture.
  7. Add the rest of the whites to the mascarpone mixture and mix until the cream is fluffly and smooth.
  8. Dip the lady fingers in the espresso mixture and place them in a single layer in a casserole dish. Continue until the bottom of the dish is covered.
  9. Spread one half of the mascarpone cream evenly over the lady fingers.
  10. Make another layer of lady fingers dipped in the espresso mixture and cover evenly with the remaining mascarpone cream.
  11. Cover the pan dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Overnight is best.
  12. Dust the top with cocoa and some shaved dark chocolate.
  13. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Use caution in consuming raw eggs due to the risk of salmonella or other food-borne illness. To reduce this risk use only fresh, properly refrigerated organic, clean grade A or AA eggs with intact shells, and avoid contact between the yolks or whites and the shell. I soak the eggs in bleach and water, wash them under running water and dry them well before using.

If you don’t want to use raw eggs, here’s a recipe for the mascarpone cream filling. Use the recipe above to make the tiramisu, just substitute this filling for the one with raw egg.

Combine 6 egg yolks and 1 cup of sugar in the top of a double boiler, over boiling water. Reduce heat to low, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the bowl from the heat and whip the yolks until thick and lemon colored. Add 1 pound mascarpone to whipped yolks, beat until combined. In a separate bowl, whip 2 cups of cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold the whipped cream in the mascarpone mixture and set aside.

Mussels Steamed in Fennel-Mascarpone Broth

Mussels steamed in a white wine and fennel broth with mascarpone
Mussels steamed in a white wine and fennel broth with mascarpone

I ended my birthday celebration with 3 glorious days in Boston. I knew I had to eat at NEBO and booked a table. It was my birthday and my friends’ anniversary celebratory 4-course dinner.

NEBO named for its original location in Boston’s vibrant Little Italy (North End Boston) recently relocated to the edge of the financial district.

Chef-owners Carla and Christine Pallotta and their 80-year-old mother made us feel as though we were at their home. The vivacious sisters serve the food they grew up with. Their grandmother and mother cooked their ancestral food from Puglia and Compania.

Mrs. Pallotta is a regular at the restaurant. She’s a constant mentor. “Don’t do it that way, do it this way,” she demonstrates while watching pasta being made in the kitchen.

Turns out that one branch of the Pallotta family is from a village in the Appenine foothills inland from Naples very close to Mirabella Eclano where my Mom was born. “We’re paesani” the 80-year old Mrs. Pallotta and I exclaimed in unison as we shared family histories.

Carla and Christine’s pan-steamed mussels were the star of our all-seafood antipasti course. I kept thinking about them so I had to try to replicate this fantastic simple dish. Here’s my interpretation of the NEBO pan-steamed mussels that we savored on that special night.

I think I got it right. The small mussels bathed in the  fennel-flavored mascarpone cream broth are briny, plump and tender. The fennel’s anise flavor balances the rich mascarpone broth. I scoop up some broth, fennel and shallot on each half-shell as I pop one mussel after another into my mouth.

Serve the mussels with grilled bread rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil to sop up all the rich, flavorful broth.

This dish brings me back to the Bay of Naples. Grazie mille Pallotta family. I’ll be back and in the meantime I’ll recreate your wonderful southern Italian dishes in my kitchen.

Buon appetito!

Steamed Mussels with Fennel & Mascarpone
 
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Plumb mussels steamed with fennel in a mascarpone cream broth.
Author:
Recipe type: Appetiser
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 24 mussels, cleaned and debearded
  • 1 fennel bulb, cored, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs fresh Italian flat parsley
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup water, fish stock or clam juice
  • ½ cup mascarpone
Instructions
  1. Put the olive oil in a large cast iron pan or large pot over high heat.
  2. When the oil ripples add the fennel, shallot and bay leaf and sauté until the fennel is tender, 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add the white wine, water, mascarpone and parsley. Mix well and boil until the liquid thickens a bit, about 5 minutes.
  4. With the broth at a rapid boil and add the mussels and put a lid on the pan.
  5. Steam the mussels until they are all open, about 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that didn't open.
  6. Serve immediately in the pan or put the mussels and broth in a large bowl and top with some fennel fronds.