When I originally bought Sorrento Grilled in Laguna Beach the most popular dessert on the menu was the tiramisu. In fact, for a time it was a de rigueur dessert on every Italian restaurant’s menu that was worth its Sicilian sea salt but then for some unknown reason it began disappearing. Sorrento had been known as a pretty hard core Italian restaurant for years but had separated itself from the plethora of other ‘heavy red’ versions in town through an emphasis on simply grilled items done over our oak burning grill. In fact, through a grandfathered city loophole, for a period of time we had the only wood burning grill allowed in the city.
When you walked into the restaurant you were immediately hit by the aroma of rosemary-marinated artichokes, double-cut pork chops and the classic Florentine porterhouses being grilled over a live oak fire… it was an intoxicating smell especially during the chilly winter months.
After a while though I felt the need to branch out a bit so I created a menu that I called ‘Italian influenced’ which basically meant I could put anything I damned well wanted to on the menu. Now, don’t misunderstand me here, I meant to keep the Italian influence at Sorrento for our regulars but felt the need to broaden the appeal and get a little more creative. Like I did with French 75 later on, I ‘Americanized’ the menu to make it more palatable to the Orange County audience. Also, Sorrento had always suffered from a lack of bar business but I had a plan to change that as well. I had been watching the slow rise in the popularity of classic martinis take place in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago so I developed a list of 12 martinis, including old classics revisited and new California hybrids ie. ‘PinaCranaKaze’. I changed the name of the restaurant to ‘Sorrento Grilled & Martini Bar’ and introduced the martini menu.
It only took about a month and our bar was packed literally every night of the week. (It didn’t take long before the local competition added a list of ‘martinis’ to their drink lists as well).
But with all these changes taking place I felt the need to keep two items on the dessert menu that to me were not only classic Italian sweets but blended the sweetness of their ingredients with the bitterness of espresso that I have always truly loved. As I’ve said in the past, I’m not a huge dessert guy but drizzle in some espresso over something sweet and you’ve got my attention. The first dessert was the affogato, meaning ‘drowned’ in Italian which is simply espresso poured over vanilla bean gelato… it’s still my favorite way to finish a meal today. The second was the ubiquitous ‘tiramisu, meaning ‘pick me up.’ A tad more involved to assemble than the affogato but still a fairly simple dessert to prepare that is, rich and satisfying. It’s basically a layered dessert made with ladyfingers dipped in espresso, whipped mascarpone cheese, eggs & sugar that is sometimes flavored with other ingredients but normally served in the original version. Unlike the affogato, which must be served immediately after making, the tiramisu is a great dessert to do the day before serving so is great for small dinner parties. It can be made in a large baking pan or in individual cups for a more distinctive presentation, and wrapped with a ribbon and bow, makes a unique and thoughtful gift to take to your holiday dinner hosts.
So recently, I was reading a travel blog written by a dear gal friend of mine who is living in Cortona, Italy 6 months of the year and I started thinking about my first trip to Italy and all the amazing food I had. For some reason one of the things that first came to mind was an amazing pistachio gelato I had at a small little stand in the center of Sienna. I asked the lady behind the counter what they used to make it and she said it was a locally made pistachio paste. So I thought if they could make gelato from this why not mix it with the creamy mascarpone used in tiramisu? The result was as delicious as the gelato. The texture of the mascarpone cream ended up being a little heavier than the traditional approach but the resulting flavor of the pistachio against the espresso is decadent. I urge you to give this very simple recipe a try. I’m sure it will disappear from your fridge as quickly as it did from mine!
Recipe – Pistachio Tiramisu
Note: Makes approximately 6 servings
» 4 each large egg yolks
» ¼ cup sugar
» 16 ounces mascarpone
» 2 Rounded Tablespoons pistachio paste
» 2 each large egg whites, room temp
» 1 pinch cream of tartar
» 2 cups espresso, room temp
» 1 tablespoon Amaretto (optional)
» 24 each lady fingers
Place yolks and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in bowl over simmering water in a double boiler and whisk constantly until egg mixture thickens and lightens in color, approximately 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in mascarpone and pistachio paste until smooth. In separate mixing bowl combine whites and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Using a hand or stand mixer whip the whites until they start to foam. Add cream of tartar and continue whipping until they are glossy and form stiff peaks. Whisk half of the whites into the mascarpone mixture and then fold the remaining whites until well combined.
Pale and Thick
Place espresso and Amaretto into shallow bowl then dip each lady finger into for a couple seconds. The goal is to have them absorb a decent amount of the espresso but not so much that they being to fall apart, which will happen pretty quickly. Place ladyfingers into the bottom of individual serving cups are a round pie pan. Next top the lady fingers with half of the mascarpone mix. Then dip and add a second layer of lady fingers and cover with remainder of mascarpone mix. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. To serve top with whipped cream, chopped pistachios and mint sprig.