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RecipesThe Sainted Sweet of Piedmont

All about Zabaglione.

Zabaglione is a featherweight foamy dessert from Piedmont. It is created with egg yolks, which are lightly sweetened and flavored with wine - in Piedmont, a red wine like Barolo is used, but elsewhere, Marsala is the wine of choice - and then whipped with frenzy into a delicious emulsion that's served with cookies or fruit.

Of the various legends about this fabulous treat's creation, I prefer to believe one that credits a Franciscan monk of Torino named Pasquale Baylon. After enduring many women's confessional complaints of matrimonial neglect, he is said to have created this confection to give husbands enhanced physical vigor. I'm not sure how he earned canonization otherwise, but San Baylon has been the patron saint of Torino's pastry chefs since 1722. His marital-aid dessert is known as sanbayon or zabaione (Piedmontese dialect for the sainted monk's name), spelled zabaglione in proper Italian.

In addition to restoring vitality, zabaglione has the great virtues of requiring neither hours nor a shelf full of ingredients to prepare. I learned to cook it from master chef Cesare Giaccone, of Da Cesare restaurant in Albaretto della Torre, who makes the best version I've ever tasted. He gave two important rules. First: "Always use an odd number of yolks." (All other recipes that I've seen call for four or six.) Second: "Work over a hot flame and forget about the bain marie." This goes against everything I've read about zabaglione preparation, which stresses the importance of the water-bath technique to avoid curdling. Cesare's proportions are simple: for each egg yolk, a spoonful of sugar and a splash of Moscato d'Asti (a less effervescent relative of Asti Spumante, it's a delicately floral wine, without the cloying taste of Marsala).

Well, it sounds easy enough, but watching Cesare in action, whisking in a round-bottomed copper pot directly over a hot flame, is to witness pure culinary ballet. If you try his recipe at home (see below), make it first for yourself (or maybe one lucky friend). Moving eggs on and off heat takes some practice, but when you get it right, even just three yolks will yield an unbelievably large reward.

Da Cesare, via San Bernardo 9, Albaretto della Torre; tel. 39-0173-520-141, fax 39-0173-520-147.

March 19, 1998

CESARE AND DON CAMERA'S ZABAIONE
Serves 4

3 egg yolks at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Moscato d'Asti wine
butter or hazelnut cookies or fresh fruit or berries
Place ingredients in a 1 ½-2 quart pot (copper is nice but not essential-use a copper or stainless steel bowl if you want to duplicate Cesare's paiolo with a rounded bottom, holding the bowl with a pot holder)

Begin beating at high speed with a mixer until foamy.  Place over medium heat and continue beating (those who'd like to follow Cesare's example and use high heat should be cautious-he's got over 30 years of experience and knows just how much heat the zabaione can take).  Mixture will grow greatly in volume and thicken.  Remove pot from the heat when mixture feels warm and continue beating.  Place back over heat, beating the whole time, removing the pot from the heat when it seems to be heating up too much. Practice makes perfect  The zabaione will be thick and foamy, warm but not hot to the touch.  Serve in individual glass serving bowls with butter or hazelnut cookies on the side.  Or over berries or sliced fresh soft ripe fruit like peaches or mango.