In case you haven’t noticed, the vast majority of my childhood memories involve food, in some way, shape or form. But as much as I associate certain dishes with specific life milestones, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, for much of my life I traveled along completely unable to see how large and important a role it played. My casual views on food could best be summed up as, “Sure I like to eat. Who doesn’t?”
That is, until Italy happened. I believe that all the truly food-obsessed can pinpoint a moment in their lives where it all changed, when they experienced their own culinary epiphany. The luckiest of us have several throughout our lifetime, but none as exhilarating as the first. Perhaps it’s that first taste of briny fresh oysters, the splash of spices across your tongue from a bowl of curry or the soft and sinful coaxing from a wheel of triple creme brie.
For me, it was a humble plate of rigatoni, tomato sauce and fresh buffalo mozzarella eaten at a too small table in a too hot restaurant in Florence. The plastic and tasteless mozzarella of my American childhood had not prepared me for what arrived. Perfectly al dente pasta, tomatoes so fresh you could still taste that afternoon’s sunshine and the cheese so creamy and smooth it seemed to ooze from my taste buds, slide down my arms and hug my fingertips. Spaghetti, tomato sauce and cheese – a dish I had eaten a million times but never had it been so wonderfully unrecognizable.
In addition to my weekly order of rigatoni, Italy gave birth to many more epiphanies and downright obsessions. Some not food (in the traditional sense, anyway), but the vast majority were. Pizza, the crust made-to-order, topped with charred tomatoes, just enough mozzarella and a post-oven heap of arugula tossed in spicy olive oil. Seasonal fruit crostatas eaten around my Italian family’s massive table for dessert and finished off by we pudgy American students for breakfast. Handmade orecchiette wearing a spring coat of pesto and topped with beady-eyed prawns in Cinque Terre. And an unwavering loyalty to tiramisu that included a version punctured with hot pink birthday candles from friends that filled in for family during those fleeting homesick moments.
This sundae is an ode to obsession. I could think of no better combination than my simultaneous love for ice cream and tiramisu. The recipe is adapted from, who else, David Lebovitz but I suggest a few changes. For one, I upped the ante with the addition of chocolate covered espresso beans. Also, I suggest cutting back on the recommended quantity of Kahlua as I found the liqueur to overpower the subtle mascarpone flavors in the ice cream. For a more formal presentation, this dessert would also be wonderful as an ice cream cake or trifle – layering the lady fingers and ice cream in a dish, topping with whipped cream and allowing to set for several hours in the freezer.
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
2 cups (2, 8 0z containers) mascarpone
1 cup half and half
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup (or less) Kahlua
1/4 – 1/2 cup chocolate covered espresso beans
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup light corn syrup
6 oz bittersweet chocolate chips
1 Tb salted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
Crispy lady fingers
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse to coarsely chop the espresso beans into medium-sized pieces and set aside. In a blender, or same food processor, whir together the mascarpone, half and half, salt, Kahlua and sugar. Pour into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill (preferably overnight) in the refrigerator. Once chilled, freeze in your ice cream maker. Using a spatula, fold in the chopped espresso beans (as many or as few as you like) and transfer the mixture to a container with a lid. Cover tightly and allow to chill in your freezer for at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan combine the cream, brown sugar, cocoa and corn syrup. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat and stir frequently for 30-45 seconds, being careful not to let the mixture burn. Once the sugar and cocoa dissolve, remove from the heat and add the chocolate chips, butter and vanilla. Stir until chocolate and butter melt.
To assemble sundaes, line a dish or bowl with 2-3 lady fingers and place scoops of ice cream on top. Drizzle with warm chocolate sauce, garnish with extra espresso beans and serve.