Italy: Arrivederci Summer

“It is Fate that I am here,” persisted George. “But you can call it Italy if it makes you less unhappy.”- E.M. Forster, A Room With a View

Ah, summer.  Some like it hot; I do not.  I do, however, appreciate a light meal al fresco to bid summer farewell.  To celebrate the end of long days, I’m sharing a pantastic salad and a favorite classic dessert with a refreshing twist that will whisk you away to both the gardens of Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast.

An End-of-Summer Light Repast: Panzanella and Limoncello Tiramisu  

Panzanella is a carb-lovers salad. A bread salad with Italian flair. With references dating back to the 16th century, panzanella (meaning bread + deep plate or soup bowl) originated in Tuscany and was enjoyed by peasants and kings and everyone in between as a dish that highlighted the bounty of the Italian countryside.

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To make this panzanella, I cubed two-day old ciabatta and added chopped roma tomatoes (natch) and cucumbers, diced sweet onion, fresh basil, and herbed fresh mozzarella. I tossed all together with olive oil, balsamic vinegar from Modena, and sea salt.  Let the bread and vegetables marinate in the dressing for a few minutes, and serve.

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Great texture, aromatic flavor, refreshing and satisfying.

But I know why you’re really here… you want to know what’s going on with that Limoncello Tiramisu, am I right?!?

First, let’s examine the (somewhat contentious) history of tiramisu.

Arguably, tiramisu first made its presence known in the Veneto region of Italy with origin dates ranging from the 1950s to the early 1970s.  There is even some speculation and lore that it was served in bordellos in an effort to gain the upper hand and corner the market on local competitors.

The original, classic tiramisu (which roughly translates to “pick me up”) is made from sponge or ladyfingers soaked in coffee and/or marsala and/or amaretto, and layered with a combination of ingredients that are blended together and typically include egg yolks, espresso. sugar, whipping cream, mascarpone cheese, and cocoa powder.

Although tiramisu is lovely, it does not evoke summer.  The rich, dark, coffee flavor is the ideal partner for a chilly winter evening, not an easy, breezy, zesty ciao bella summer.

Let’s talk limoncello, shall we?
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This bright, sunshiny lemon liqueur from southwest Italy is dreamy.  It’s a crisp and happy little sip that is made from lemons typically grown in the terroir of the Amalfi Coast. (Side note: The Amalfi Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site… swoon). In this version of tiramisu, the limoncello replaces the amaretto or marsala, taking away the heaviness and giving a tart little kiss.

This is an easy yet impressive dessert to throw together.  No need for raw egg yolks in this version. Here they are replaced with lemon curd to give the bite and richness that is the hallmark of this citrusy sweet.

To make this Limoncello Tiramisu, in a small saucepan, combine the juice of 5 large lemons, 1-1/2 cups of limoncello, 1/4 tsp of lemon extract or lemon oil, 1 T of lemon zest, and 1/4 cup of sugar.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5-7 minutes and let cool.

In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup of room-temperature mascarpone cheese, 1 cup of whipping cream, 2 T of lemon zest, 2 T of limoncello, 1-1/2 cups of lemon curd, and 1/2 to 3/4 cup of sugar.  Mix that up until it’s gorgeous and creamy.

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You should have 24 crisp and light (store bought is fine) ladyfingers. One by one, dip the ladyfingers into the lemon juice concoction you boiled and cooled on the stove. In a trifle bowl (!) or rectangular pan, spread a layer of the mascarpone mixture on the bottom, and add a layer of dipped ladyfingers (not overlapping) followed by another layer of mascarpone;  continue layering.

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The final layer should be the mascarpone which you can then garnish with some sliced lemons or a sprinkling of lemon zest. Then cover and chill in the refrigerator for a few hours (overnight is best).

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Tah dah! That’s it. This is one of the best things that I’ve ever tasted. Ever.  Ever!
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Serve chilled.  Drink an espresso if you still want some caffeine with your tiramisu.

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Ciao for now.  I’ll be exploring another tasty country soon.  Stay tuned!

 


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