Two days after moving from Georgia to Connecticut, Pete and I flew off to Italy (my dad jokes that we dropped off our bags and left…and looking at the stacks of unpacked boxes still in the house, yes, this is true). Today I want to tell you all about the trip and share my favorite Italian food ever…tiramisu!
On the plane from the US to Europe, I thought about this very post. I was sure I was going to write a long post raving about Italy and all the amazing food. That’s exactly what I did when I went to Paris a year and a half ago. But Italy really surprised me.
To be perfectly honest, in general I was underwhelmed by the food. Pete and I ate at a variety of restaurants, from jam-packed hole-in-the-wall eateries where people didn’t speak a word of English and the menus were scribbled on a piece of paper taped to the wall, to ones recommended by Fodor’s and Rick Steves, to top rated restaurants on Trip Advisor. One place even had a NY times newspaper clipping tacked on the door, saying they are the best trattoria in Rome. But for some reason the food just didn’t jive with me or my husband.
And since the trip, Pete and I have been trying to figure out why. It’s certainly not a matter of the ingredients. As I showed in my video, the ingredients are just incredible. Dare I say they might even be the best in the world in terms of freshness and quality. But it was the preparation that we thought was lacking.
The biggest and most recurring issue was the inconsistency of the food. I would get a side of potatoes where one piece of potato would be brown and crispy and the one next to it would be mushy, colorless, and greasy. The same thing happened with a bowl of tortellini I had, where some of the tortellini were twice as big as the others in the same bowl, which meant that some were chewy and hard, while some were overcooked and mushy.
The expensive restaurant food was also generally too simple and too “homey.” Sometimes I love a bowl of cheesy pasta with creamy sauce, but this kind of food generally doesn’t excite me. You know how sometimes you want something creamy and fatty, but then later you want something fresh, light, vibrant, and balanced? The food I had was generally very caloric, dripping with olive oil, and not really light or balanced. Also in Italy, the pasta is often just noodles with sauce. I know when I make pasta at home I always have to have at least 3 ingredients mixed in (you know, a protein, a veggie, herbs, etc). The fresh pasta was delicious, and undoubtedly the best I’ve ever had, but pasta only with sauce? Something about that I just don’t like.
Now, did I have some awesome meals in Italy too? Of course! But I noticed that my favorite meals were the ones that were typically assortments of cheeses and charcuterie, and sandwiches prepared with the freshest tomatoes, arugula, high quality salami, and roasted eggplants with their amazingly fruity olive oil.
And the gelato…oh the gelato. So good.
To sum up my thoughts about the food, I think much of the problem is that I expected the food to be somewhat similar to Paris, because people always say “France and Italy have amazing food.” For that reason it’s easy to group them together, but their takes on food are wildly different. Overall, I have to say that I think the food in France is better than in Italy (sorry, I still love you Italy, but seriously, looking at those Paris photos). I was in Paris a year and a half ago and I STILL remember so many of those meals, which I think says a lot. So anyway, those are my general thoughts on the Italian food. The Italian sightseeing? INCREDIBLE!
The duomo in Florence:
One of the piazzas in Florence:
St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican:
And the incredible Roman forum. This was a booming Roman civilization long ago…now it’s just ruins.
Alright, I know you’re hungry so let’s talk about this tiramisu. Several months ago I ate tiramisu at an Italian place in Brooklyn called Va Beh, and since then I have been obsessed with tiramisu. My husband literally had to beg me to stop ordering tiramisu after day 3 in Italy, because I wanted to eat it all. the. time.
With all that’s been said in this post so far, it should be no surprise that the quality of the tiramisu is dependent on the quality of the ingredients. Make sure to use fresh espresso here. That instant espresso powder just isn’t going to cut it.
Start by whipping egg whites to stiff peaks:
Then whipping egg yolks until pale and frothy:
Add some creamy Italian mascarpone cheese, and whip it in.
Dip ladyfinger cookies into freshly brewed espresso:
And arrange them in the bottom of a glass dish. Cover the ladyfingers with the eggy mascarpone mixture:
And repeat the process with another layer. Then dust the top with cocoa powder:
Then comes the hard part…letting the tiramisu sit in the fridge for a good 4-6 hours. This lets the layers soak into each other and lets the flavor meld. Then you can cut it into squares and dig in.
Here’s a video I made for you that shows how to make this recipe from start to finish:
Yield: 6 servings
3 egg whites*
6 egg yolks*
8 oz mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
2 tbsp amaretto liqueur
3+3 tbsp sugar
1 cup freshly pulled espresso, cooled to room temperature
3-4 dozen ladyfingers, storebought or homemade
cocoa powder, for dusting
In a super clean bowl, whip the egg whites and 3 tbsp of sugar together with a hand mixer, for about 3-5 minutes until the egg whites hold stiff peaks (see photo above). In a separate bowl, whip the egg yolks with the other 3 tbsp sugar for 3-5 minutes until the egg yolks are thick, frothy, and pale yellow in color. Add the mascarpone and amaretto liqueur to the egg yolks and whip until combined. Gently fold the stiff egg whites into the egg yolk mixture and set aside.
Gather up a 8x6 glass container (or you can do individual servings in glasses), and dunk each ladyfinger into the espresso for 2-5 seconds and place the ladyfinger into the bottom of the glass dish. Don't let the ladyfinger soak so much that it falls apart, just a quick dunk to let it absorb a little bit of espresso. Once the ladyfingers have formed a single layer in the bottom of the dish, spread 1/2 of the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers. Arrange another layer of espresso soaked ladyfingers on top, and spread over the remaining mascarpone cream.
Wrap the top of the glass container with plastic wrap and let the tiramisu refrigerate for 4-6 hours. This part is important, it allows the layers to soak into each other and the flavors to meld together. Serve cold.
*This recipe contains raw eggs. There is a very small risk of salmonella when consuming raw eggs. Consume at your own risk.