For MasterChef judge Matt Preston, Italy’s best savoury dish is simple, classico and untouchable. Italy’s best dolce, however, needs a little update.
Matt Preston reveals the Italian food that rocks his world.
STOP FOR ONE MOMENT and think of all the amazing food that Italy has gifted the world… then ask yourself: among all that great deliciousness, what would be the greatest dish?
Certainly, if you look at Google, pizza (203 million hits) and pasta (131 million) dominate. But these are hardly dishes, more
groups of dishes. There are problems with the next big pollers, too. Spaghetti bolognese (85 million hits) is a clear favourite, but many food historians question whether it is really Italian. Bizarrely, the words ‘chicken’ and ‘risotto’ together register more hits (49.4 million) than just ‘risotto’ (48.7 million), which throws my methodology in a spin and draws a question mark over who is counting hits at Google! (For the entire Top 30 Italian Dishes, head to delicious.com.au.)
This leaves one clear claimant for the title of Italy’s greatest dish. It’s unique and definitely loved worldwide. It is also a dish that, for me, gets to the core of Italian cooking: take a few of the best ingredients and make them shine. So, Italy’s greatest dish is the heavenly combination of blistered, puffy dough, tart tomato sugo, and milky mozzarella. It’s Napoli’s margherita pizza! For my money, this classic pizza just edges out lasagne.
Despite all these savoury hits, the Italian kitchen struggles when it comes to equally legendary homegrown desserts. Most are built around budino (puddings, only 2.5 million hits) and cakes (yawn), or are more like a cheese course with fresh fruit. Zuppa inglese (‘English soup’) is basically a trifle. Panna cotta draws an impressive 52 million hits, but, again, there is doubt over its origin.
To me, there is only one exemplary dessert in the Italian kitchen, and this one attracts over 42 million hits. It is tiramisu – a dessert that popped up in the ’60s, part of that whole La Dolce Vita, smooth-talking, hooded-eyed, playboy-lover-on-a-Vespa era.
The trouble is that the classic combination of biscuits, coffee and mascarpone is looking a little tired these days. Even with the modern addition of a liqueur such as Strega, Marsala, Kahlúa, amaretto or Frangelico, it needs a little updating.
Never one to shirk from this sort of culinary Everest, delicious. food director Phoebe Wood and I have dragged the tiramisu right up to the now by incorporating the hot-in-all-the-coolest-restaurants malty, salty flavours of Horlicks and Maltesers. And Lord love me if it doesn’t work better than a smooth Italian’s line about your ‘beautiful eyes’ – even if he is straddling a Vespa, V-neck thrown over his shoulders while calling you ‘ bella’.
MALTED MILK TIRAMISU (COVER RECIPE) SERVES 12-15
Begin this recipe at least 5 hours ahead. You will need a sugar thermometer.
11/ 2 cups (330g) caster sugar 1/ 3 cup (80ml) runny honey 3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda, sifted 2 cups (240g) malted milk powder 3 titanium-strength gelatine leaves 2 cups (500ml) thickened cream 250g chocolate ripple biscuits, finely crushed 80g unsalted butter, melted, cooled 6 eggs, separated 1kg good-quality mascarpone 300ml strong black coffee 200ml hazelnut liqueur 450g sponge finger biscuits (savoiardi) 100g dark (70%) chocolate, chopped 1 tsp vegetable oil Good-quality dark cocoa, to serve
To make honeycomb, line a baking tray with baking paper. Place
1/2 cup (110g) sugar, honey and 2 tbs water in a deep saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir to dissolve sugar. Increase heat to high and bring to the boil. Cook, without stirring, for 5 minutes or until 154°C on a sugar thermometer. Remove from the heat, add bicarb and 1/2 cup (60g) milk powder, and stir to combine. Quickly pour into prepared tray to set and cool completely, then roughly chop.
Soak gelatine in cold water for 5 minutes to soften. Place 1 cup (250ml) cream in a saucepan over low heat and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. Squeeze excess water from gelatine and add to cream. Stir to dissolve, then cool completely. Grease a 22cm square pan and line with 3 layers of plastic wrap, leaving 10cm overhanging (this helps to remove tiramisu). Combine biscuits and butter in a bowl. Press into base of prepared pan and chill until needed. To make the mascarpone cream, whisk egg yolks and remaining 1 cup (220g) sugar for 4-5 minutes or until thick and pale. Add remaining 1 cup (250ml) cream and whisk until thick, then add mascarpone and remaining 11/ 2 cups (180g) milk powder, and whisk until thick. Whisk in gelatine mixture, then set aside.
Whisk eggwhites to stiff peaks, then, in 2 batches, fold into mascarpone mixture. Chill until ready to assemble. To assemble tiramisu, combine coffee and hazelnut liqueur in a shallow bowl. Dip one-third savoiardi into coffee mixture and arrange in a single layer over biscuit base. Spread with one-third mascarpone cream. Repeat dipping and layering process to create 3 layers. Fold the overhanging plastic wrap over top of tiramisu to enclose. Chill for 4 hours or until set.
When ready to serve, place chocolate and oil in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until melted, then cool to room temperature. Dust tiramisu with cocoa and scatter with honeycomb. Drizzle with chocolate to serve.