by gina depalma
For the next two months, our website will be focusing once again on the Italian region of Piemonte as the world turns its eyes towards the city of Torino for the XX Winter Olympics. If you ask me, Piemonte, (or Piedmont) is the next hot Italian tourist destination, and the reasons are apparent. Within its borders you will find rolling hills of extraordinary beauty, picture-perfect, historic little towns filled with art, culture and ripe for exploration, spa destinations for rest and rejuvenation, and for gastronomes, a wealth of fine cuisine, including the famous white truffle of Alba, as well as some of the finest cheeses and wines produced in Italy.
It is a little-known fact that Zabaione, the frothy concoction of egg yolks whipped with wine and sugar, originated in Piemonte. It was invented by a Franciscan monk, Fra’ Pasquale de Baylon, who tended to a parish in Torino in the mid-16th century. Fra Pasquale encouraged his parishioners to enjoy the recipe as a way to maintain good health and restore their vigor. The original formula was known as 1+2+2+1; that is, 1 egg yolk, 2 spoonfuls of sugar, 2 egg-shells of wine, and one egg-shell of water. The water served as a substitute for some of the wine, which the poorest members of his flock could use only sparingly.
When Saint Pasquale de Baylon was canonized in 1680, his recipe became widely popular, spreading beyond his adopted city of Torino. The local Torinese dialect abbreviated his name to San Bajon, and the recipe was known as L’Sanbajon. As the recipe’s fame extended outside the State of Savoy and into other parts of Italy the spelling was Italianized, giving us the current Piemontese spelling of Zabaione. Saint Pasquale de Baylon later became the patron saint of local pastry chefs, and his feast day is celebrated every May 17th at the church of his original parish of San Tomas in Torino. The egg-y whipped dessert is a popular favorite in the cafes and trattorie of the city, where it is served warm with fresh frutti di bosci, or wild berries, in the summer months.
Zabaione, like so many other Italian recipes, is subject to regional interpretation. In Milan, it was known as Sapajean, made with red wine and lemon juice, and in the south, Zabaglione is most often made with Marsala from Sicily. Any way you spell it, Zabaione is a wonderfully versatile dessert component; it may be served warm, right from the mixing bowl, or further whipped until it is cool. Cooled Zabaione may then be folded into whipped cream, or incorporated into gelato and semifreddo. Fruit and biscotti are classic accompaniments, and either warm or cold, Zabaione is an excellent dessert sauce when served with torte, crostate and budini. You can also experiment with type of wine or spirit used; in addition to the above-mentioned variations, I enjoy using a delicious Vin Santo or a fine, aged, sweet sherry in my Zabaione. For even more fun, try adding a little grappa or rum to the mix.
Saint Pasquale de Baylon’s original recipe formula has changed little over the years as you can see from the proportions below. The technique may sound daunting, but trust me, it is pretty simple when you follow the rules: Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar well before placing them over the heat, keep the water at an even, moderate simmer, add the alcohol gradually, and keep whisking constantly to avoid overcooking. A balloon-type whisk will incorporate more air into the Zabaione, therefore making it light, fluffy and ethereal.
With the hills and valleys of lush and lovely Piemonte in mind, try my recipe for Zabaione made with sweet and sparkling Moscato D’Asti; served with fresh or poached fruit or some crunchy biscotti, it is the perfect dessert to enjoy while watching the Olympics this year!
Place a wide saucepan filled halfway with water over medium heat and bring the water to a moderate simmer.
Use a stainless steel, glass, or copper mixing bowl that will comfortably fit on the saucepan. Make sure that the simmering water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Place the egg yolks in the bowl and whisk in the sugar. Continue whisking until the egg yolks are light in color and fluffy in texture. Place the bowl over the simmering water, and, whisking constantly, dribble in the Moscato slowly. Continue whisking the mixture. It should become increasingly fluffy and double in volume. Test the Zabaione for doneness by lifting the whisk and allowing some of the mixture to fall on top of itself. If the Zabaione mounds and holds its shape nicely for three to five seconds, it is finished.
Remove the bowl from the heat. If you are serving the Zabaione warm, it is ready to be spooned over fruit or into dessert glasses.
To cool the Zabaione, continue whisking it until is to cool; it may then be folded into a gelato or semifreddo, or served alongside cakes, tarts or puddings. If desired, you can fold the Zabaione into the whipped heavy cream for a more delicate flavor and firm texture.