Thursday, January 13, 2011

Zabaione? Zabaglione? Either Way, Prosecco, Sugar, Egg Yolks, and Learning Italian

Though this is more commonly made with Marsala wine, and may actually have originally been made with beer, the light, bubbly sweetness of prosecco is absolutely perfect with the sweet egg yolk, frothed dessert. It's the cousin of the French sabayon a sweet or savoury sauce, but in this case, the Italians did it first and better. I also chose the prosecco because the first time I had this dish it was with champagne and the Chef who served it to me and my mother (two lactose-intolerant women overjoyed to be eating dessert at a gorgeous restaurant) told me he had learned it without a recipe from a Chef who said, "You do this, you add this now, then you do this..." etc. and that seemed like such a natural way to cook that I was inspired to recreate the dessert.

The recipe is actually very adaptable; sugar content can vary, alcohol can vary, and cooking time is really just as long as it needs. There are people who hate recipes like that, but there's something very endearing and very Italian about them.

Speaking of Italian, the one thing that stumped me was why when I look up Italian recipes for the dessert the name is "zabaione" and when I look up English recipes it's "zabaglione"? If anyone can let me know, I'd appreciate it. The recipe I used said it could have come from one of several military generals of royalty with names that all sort of sound like "ee'-oh'-neh'" but then it admits that the recipe is probably a lot older than any of those war stories. The Italians were probably eating sweetened, alcoholic egg yolks long before Captain Baglioni or Giovanni de Baylon had anything to do with it. What did men know about Italian desserts in the 16th Century anyway?

I had 12 egg yolks leftover from the angel food cake, but you can do a smaller version of this recipe if you wish by just dividing all the ingredients appropriately. The long mixing is boring, but I had a willing friend who took the whisking reigns. It was a bonus that we could speak Italian together while he waited patiently for the custard to thicken. His Italian is much better than mine, and having just returned from Rome, the whole process was quaintly beautiful.

Zabaione al Prosecco
12 egg yolks
1/2 cup Prosecco (it doesn't have to be a great Prosecco. Anything will do. Any other sparkling wine will also do. If it's very sweet, just add less sugar below)
1 cup sugar

Seriously, three ingredients. You can do this.

1. Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks and reserve the whites for another purpose*
2. Bring a pot of water to almost a simmer. It should never actually boil, but always be in the verge. Use a pot that a heatproof bowl can sit on top of safely (you're making a double-boiler).
3. Put the yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl and beat it with an electric whisk or beater until the eggs are thick, creamy, and almost white.
4. Add the Prosecco a teaspoon at a time, beating constantly and once all the Prosecco is added, put the bowl on top of the pot and whisk or blend for 15-20 minutes, until the cream is expanded, luscious and thick.
5. Serve immediately, or remove the bowl from the heat and keep beating until the custard cools completely. If you stop beating too early, the alcohol will separate. With the Prosecco in it it's better to eat it right away and make the most of the bubbles!

*Ideally you use them first if you need to whip them, as they're not going to get any fluffier by leaving them in your fridge. You can leave for up to two days in there if you, say, want to make an egg-white omelet with them. you can also freeze them, and the same goes for leftover egg yolks in other recipes. Once you try this recipe, though, you won't have any trouble using up leftover yolks. Take that, mayonnaise.


Anonymous said...

In everyday Italian it's called zabaione.
Zabaglione is an old term, dating back to 1700 at least.
It can also be called zabajone, for in the 20's-40's Italian the i usually was transformed into a j if it was between two vowels. It's an habit that now remains only in people's surnames.

MissWatson said...

Very interesting! I've never seen the 'j' before. And now I know. Thanks!