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!
FregolottaRecipe from Gina DePalma, Babbo Ristorante
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.