I know I’m getting a bit Italo-centric here, but what can I say? I cook what I know.
I didn’t know about this dessert at all until a gorgeous dinner during a trip to Italy last year. We had been invited to Francesco’s aunt’s house in the countryside near Bologna. A family affair, the kind I love: piling into the car, getting lost, arriving late and grumpy and starving. And then sitting down in a warm room with a fire and the smell of rosemary and a roast and a table full of unopened bottles.
And though it would have been a night to remember for the food alone (Francesco and I still remember vividly the menu: salumi and cheeses, a vegetable mold warpped in prosciutto and baked, pasta e fagioli, roast beef with roast potatoes, zuccotto), that night remains crystallized in my mind because it was one of the last nights we saw Antonella.
Though I didn’t know her well, she was a force to be reckoned with. So warm, so welcoming, so forgiving of my botched Italian, so talented in the kitchen, and so generous. After an entire evening of my raving (excessively) over her amazing cooking, she didn’t hesitate to scribble down the recipe for the zuccotto, a really classic Florentine semi-frozen dessert. Until a few days ago, I kept it stashed in a drawer. And when my craving for baked pasta hit, I knew exactly how I wanted to follow it up.
Though Antonella’s instructions were vague in that typical Italian way (“beat the egg whites then add them to the cheese, which you pour into the mold, which is covered with the sponge sprinkled with rum”), and we’d forgotten to write down the quantity of sugar, it turned out amazing. The guests were raving, just as I did last year. It’s perfect for hot or cold weather and the perfect way to end a meal. It’s probably not the same as hers, but then again, nothing really is.
Grazie ad Antonella per questa ricetta, che viene dal Mad Cafè a Marina di Ravenna.
This serves 8-10 and last up to a week in the freezer.
1 1/4 cup (250 grams) mascarpone (or more)
2 heaping tablespoons fresh ricotta (optional)
2 eggs, separated
1/2 – 2/3 cup sugar (depending on taste)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (150 grams) amaretti cookies, crushed
1/2 cup candied citrus peel, chopped finely
4 oz. (120 grams) good-quality dark chocolate, in shards
sponge cake (pan di spagna) (store bought is ok)
1/3 cup rum or amaretto liquor mixed with water to make 1/2 cup
In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until creamy. Add the mascarpone, ricotta (if using), vanilla, amaretti, candied peel and chocolate. You can add more of either cheese if you want more volume.
Clean the beaters, then use them to beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until they are very stiff, about 5 minutes. Gently fold the egg whites into the cheese mixture.
Now, take a large bowl and line it with plastic wrap. Don’t worry, it doesn’t need to be neat. Now take your sponge cake* and slice it into triangles so you can easily line the bowl with cake. Patch up any missing holes so that the bottom and sides of the bowl are completely lined with cake. Now take the rum-water mixture and sprinkle it all over the cake, trying to saturate it evenly. If you think it could use a bit more, go ahead and douse it in more rum (which never, ever hurts).
Once your bowl is lined with cake and your cake is doused in rum, go ahead and pour the cheese mixture into the bowl. Cover the top with remaining sponge cake to seal, then cover with plastic wrap. Push down on the plastic a bit then pop it in the freezer for at least 5 hours.
If the zuccotto is frozen solid, remove 1 hour before serving and place it in the refrigerator. (You want to serve this dessert very cold but not completely frozen. It doesn’t melt easily, so don’t worry about leaving it out.) To serve, invert the bowl onto a serving plate, remove all the plastic, and cut into slices.
* I sliced my cake in half horizontally because I thought it was too thick, but it’s all a matter of preference. I used store-bought sponge cake (pan di spagna), but you could make your own.