Zabaglione

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Have people been enjoying the latest season of the Great British Baking Show? I actually got emotional watching the semi-final last night. (And don’t worry, no spoilers here.) When people who are tough critics give warm praise, it does tend to make me ferklempt, and I guess I am more attached to the three bakers advancing to the final than I realized. It really has been a stellar pack this year and I’m looking forward to the Final next week.

I usually want to hunt down a yummy baked good after watching the delicious parade of desserts on the show, but yummy baked good almost always means big fistful of cake or something gluten-y. I can once in a while have a cupcake or a piece of pie without my system rebelling, but I had a rather indulgent weekend in Napa last weekend, and I need to rein it in. So that’s what made me think of one of my old favorite desserts, which is also gluten free, Zabaglione. I haven’t made it in a very long time but when I was a tween, first getting interested in cooking, I used to make it a lot.

Italian desserts always struck me as a little weird when I was a little kid – not sweet enough, not chocolate-bound enough – but as I matured, I gravitated toward their off-beatness, embracing them as a way to call a dare on myself. At that age we are figuring out who we are, and I wanted to be a fearless culinary adventuress. I tried sweetbreads back then too, and I wasn’t sorry.  

Zabaglione shows up with many different spellings. I’ve seen it as sabayon sauce on menus and in New York we sometimes referred to it colloquially as zambaione. It’s a bright yellow, boozy custard that I think could bring the infirm back to life. It’s also a great thing to turn to when you have a lot of eggs in the fridge to use, or you’ve made a recipe that calls for a bunch of egg whites and you’ve got remaindered egg yolks staring balefully at you from the bowl. It is a marriage of egg yolks, sugar (not very much of it) and Marsala wine. Though purists might object, I branched out to try champagne and amaretto as the alcohol used and I remember both being really nice. The alcohol does cook off. I was doing these experiments with my zabaglione using other wines at age 13 or 14, I think. (Thanks, Mom and Dad, for not being stressed out about that! No tippling occurred.)

If you’ve ever wondered why you still have a double boiler, or why you need one, making zabaglione is one important use for it. Having Marsala around is always a good idea, but if you have leftover champagne from the holidays, I think you can give it a shot. It will be a little paler and sweeter than the traditional version. Enjoy it with fruit. Berries are ideal, but I remember that once at La Stazione, my favorite Italian restaurant in Westchester growing up, the waiter said they regretfully had no berries for the zabaglione. We determined that they did have grapes and that turned out to be pretty awesome in the mix as well.

If you are in San Francisco, they make it very well at the Gold Mirror on Taraval. They have the best Italian dessert menu I’ve seen west of Westchester County, NY.

Sorry about the lack of pictures. If I do whip some up tonight, as I think I will, I’ll add a photo or two to the post later.

Buon appetito, and best wishes for a very happy Thanksgiving Holiday, tutti!

Behold! An ancient index card holding a relic of my young teen handwriting, which was so neat back then that I am punting on retyping the recipe. 🙂