Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Finding My Christmas Spirit, Italian-Style

I think I just found my Christmas spirit...enhancing, and served alongside, a crumbly, Italian torte called Fregolotta.

Grappa is a uniquely Italian drink, made from pomace, the discarded grape skins, pulp, seeds, and stems left over from winemaking after pressing the grapes. I've had a few sips in the past, but it didn't really appeal to me. When I asked for a recommendation from the selection of grappas available at BevMo yesterday, the salesman replied, "they all taste like lighter fluid, but this one is the easiest to get down." Nice sales pitch.

Like wine, grappa comes in all varieties and qualities, with the flavor based on the grape or fruit used.  I choose Grappa di Moscato.  The perfume is fuity, with hints of peach, apricot and spiced sage, and the taste is aromatic, typical of the moscato grape, with hints of rose.

Traditionally, grappa is served chilled in small glasses, and after the meal, to aid digestion. Grappa should be swirled gently in the glass, brought to your nose, and then tasted in small sips. I could get used to it on a cold winter's night, paired with this fregolotta from Gina DePalma, pastry chef at Mario Batali's Babbo Ristorante.

Chef DePalma explains that Italians have a fondness for crumbly, porous textures when it comes to sweets, mainly because dry, crumbly textures are perfectly partnered with local wines and spirits. They are also easy to prepare and store, which was especially necessary in leaner times when rich ingredients like milk and cream weren’t so readily available.

Fregolotta is a crumbly, cracker-like confection from Venice, where the finest grappas of Italy are produced.  It's filled with fragrant almonds and perfumed with a bit of lemon zest. The texture is slightly chewy, from a bit of polenta, another revered ingredient of the region. It is best enjoyed alongside a glass of grappa.  I've now enjoyed it alongside a glass of grappa, a glass of wine, and my morning coffee!

Recipe from Gina DePalma, Babbo Ristorante
10-12 servings

¾ cup sliced, blanched almonds
1 cup all-purpose flour
1tablespoon instant polenta or finely ground cornmeal
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 ounces unsalted butter, cold and cubed, plus additional butter for greasing the pan
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon grappa
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan generously with butter and set aside.

Place the almonds, flour, polenta, sugar and salt in a food processor and process until the almonds are finely ground, about 30 seconds. Add the cubed butter and pulse until it disappears into the dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, olive oil, vanilla, grappa and lemon zest. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and pulse until the mixture forms crumbs and is evenly moistened.

Press the crumbs firmly and evenly into the bottom of the cake pan. Bake the fregolotta for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it is golden brown and firm to the touch.

Allow the Fregolotta to cool completely in the pan, then carefully unmold it. To serve, break it into large pieces and enjoy with a glass of wine or grappa.


Sue Kipp said...

Thanks Denise, I needed the right dessert for our Christmas eve seven fishes dinner. This will be perfect!

Anonymous said...

Looks tasty, but I wish it called for more grappa. We received a full bottle of what appears to be a high end grappa as a birthday present. But considering that neither of us are huge fans (lighter fluid sounds about right from my experience) we are at a loss as to what to do with it. I need to do a little more research to find a recipe which will use up my bottle!

Cher said...

I never thought about why so many Italian desserts tend to be a bit drier - that was an interesting tidbit.
Have a great holiday!

Christy said...

Really great tips on how to enjoy Grappa, and the dessert loooks like a great way to finish a meal - especially if you are doing the Feast of Seven Fishes! We are modifying and doing the feast of two fishes and bistecca.

Merry Christmas!

PS, I think you said you used to live in Palm Desert - when did you move and what high school did you go to? I've been meaning to ask you but haven't seen you on FFWD.

Anonymous said...

my husband brought home a bottle of Grappa (or two) from Bulgaria, when he went - since I made him watch the No Reservations episode about Bulgaria before he went- he was able to eat all the same things that Bourdain ate plus the grappa, and it was a terrible drink. How nuts! :) Do you have a desire to drink it again?? Your torte looks fabulous!

tricia s. said...

Great post with lovely photos - as usual ! You had me at the header of "Italian Style" and I very much enjoyed the entire informative post. Nana and I continued the tradition of celebrating the "Feast of 7 Fishes" this year,although we did so for the first time in Vermont. The calamari and lobster was lovely no matter where we cook it. And we had held a conversation about grapp and the bad rap it gets. We had definitely had some lighter fluid versions but my younger son is considering a study year abroad in Italy next year. Not that he will be drinking grappa (I hope:)Happy Holidays !!!

Betsy said...

Looks like a great dessert. Hopefully I can remember it for next year. We go to an annual Feast of 7 Fishes at a friend's. I bring a fish (crab cakes), but I can bring dessert as well. Hope your holidays were happy ones!