Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: A creamy Tuscan semifreddo that can be whipped up in no time.
Its name means “little brick,” but that's only because of its shape; scooped into a plain metal loaf tin and then frozen, Mattonella is always served in slabs. After one bite you'll see that the texture of this mousse-like delight is nothing like a brick -- it's creamy and silky, and it seems to float and melt on the tongue all at once.
The semifreddo's airiness comes from two main ingredients: a fluffy and glossy Italian meringue -- the most stable of all meringues, whipped for about 7 minutes -- and fresh whipped cream. They are gently folded together to retain as much air as possible before the pine nuts are added and the mixture is poured into a loaf pan and frozen. This is the classic method for making any Italian semifreddo, and it's a good base for a multitude of variations (like gianduia).
Mattonella is a favorite summertime dessert that appears on Tuscan trattoria or pizzeria menus from Florence to Pisa to Livorno -- though sources say that this dish originally hails from Pisa. It's spectacularly simple and, like most semifreddi, ideal for replicating at home. There's no need for churning or any special equipment (although a candy thermometer comes in handy for the Italian meringue), and it can be whipped up in no time. You must only be patient while it sits in the freezer -- but that's also why it's a great dessert to make in advance.
This super-creamy semifreddo doesn't set too hard, but still holds its shape when you slice it into thick slabs for serving. Place the slices on chilled plates and drizzle them with warm chocolate sauce, and they'll be gobbled up to a chorus of oohs and aahs. If you prefer something fruity, try serving the semifreddo with freshly made berry sauce instead.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.