Recently, I received a summons to an evening of conspicuous consumption. The event was a dinner held at the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York, prepared by four women chefs from the top Piedmontese restaurants in Italy. The exchange of cooks was in celebration of the first uncorking of Bruno and Marcello Ceretto's premium Barolo, a red wine from the Castiglione Falletto Vineyard, also in the Piedmont region.
To complement the wines, an imaginative five-course meal composed of Piedmontese ingredients like white truffles and wild hare was served.
Evaluating native dishes on foreign soil is a tricky business. To my prejudiced tongue, desserts at the dinner were dishes most capable of reproduction in a United States kitchen.
I have the following recipes straight from the chefs as evidence. The handiwork of Giuseppina Fassi, cook/owner of the Gener Neuv restaurant in Asti, Italy, is a thoroughly unconventional pink zabaglione composed of Barolo wine and a lot of imagination. With it Fassi served dry, hazelnut macaroons that would make a perfect meal ending for a picnic as well as a banquet.
The trick to this frothy confection is a sturdy double boiler that is ample enough to accommodate a balloon whisk. Flimsy whips and egg beaters simply will not work. Fassi's zabaglione was served hot. I prefer mine made earlier, poured into goblets and chilled until the time for its appearance. A dab of whipped cream won't hurt, either.
GIUSEPPINA FASSI'S ZABAGLIONE WITH BAROLO
5 egg yolks
5 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup Barolo wine
Beat yolks with sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Whisk in wine and transfer to top of large double boiler.
Continue to beat mixture over hot, not simmering, water until thick and creamy, 8 to 10 minutes. Mixture will swell up when done.
Spoon zabaglione into goblets or tulip glasses. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
GENER NEUV'S HAZELNUT MACAROONS
1/4 pound hazelnuts
4 to 5 egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
Place hazelnuts on baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees 5 minutes. Carefully wrap nuts in paper towels and place in plastic bag. Let stand until cool enough to handle. Rub nuts in paper towels to remove skins. Chop nuts (do not process) until finely ground. Reserve.
Reduce oven heat to 325 degrees. In large bowl or electric mixer, beat 4 egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Continue to beat, slowly adding sugar, until very thick meringue forms. Fold in hazelnuts.
Transfer meringue mixture to heavy-bottom saucepan and cook, stirring frequently with wooden spoon, over low heat until mixture becomes less glossy, 10 to 12 minutes. It is done when resembles stage at which fudge is ready to be poured into pan. Do not overcook because, like fudge, it hardens quickly. (If dough becomes too stiff, add extra egg white and quickly beat back to semi-soft consistency.) Let cool slightly.
Using fingers and teaspoon, form mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls and place, about 1 1/2 inches apart, on wax paper-lined baking sheet. Bake until crisp and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool slightly before removing from paper. Cool completely before storing in airtight container. Macaroons have long shelf life when properly stored. Makes about 20 to 22 macaroons.