Some credit Franciscan monks for this simple dessert of whipped egg yolks, sugar and wine. Others say Caterina de' Medici, Queen Mother of France in the 16th century, is to thank. But in the Italian region of Emilia Romagna, nestled between the Apennine Mountains to the south and the River Po winding its way to meet the Adriatic Sea, another legend lives on.
The year was 1471 and military commander Giovanni Baglioni had set up camp in the town of Reggio Emilia. Needing to feed his hungry men, he sent them off to find provisions in a “kindly” way and instructed them to only take eggs, sugar, honey and herbs. Another version of the story suggests these are the only things the men could scrounge up. The ingredients were brought back to camp, warmed and whisked together, forming an invigorating concoction. From these humble, tall-tale beginnings, zabaglione was born.
In Italy, it’s referred to as zabaione. And in France, the name is sabayon — there you will find this frothy delight made as a savory sauce (prepared without sugar) served with fish or vegetables just as often as sweet versions. It can be served cold or warm. Most often a wine is used like marsala, port or something local. But cognac, grappa or pretty much any wine or spirit you can imagine can be used too. In the Italian region of Piedmont, sparkling wine is often used, and during the summer, a light and dry bubbly is my favorite way to go.
In this recipe, cherries are gently simmered with a touch of rose petal-infused honey, but especially now when stone fruit and berries are at their peak, fresh ripe fresh fruit is a perfect match. This version is served cold, and at the end I add some lavender whipped cream to make it even more light and airy with a floral note. On multiple occasions, I have made this version the night before and it keeps beautifully in the fridge.
Zabaglione is easier to make than it appears at first glance. The key is to set yourself up for success by gathering your bowls and ice bath ahead of time. I recommend reading the recipe all the way through a couple of times so you can experience the joy that comes with making this simple classic.
Sparkling Summer Zabaglione
Makes: 8-10 servings; total time: 1 hour
For the cherries:
1 cup sparkling wine
2 tablespoons honey
¼ cup dried organic rose petals or ½ cup fresh
4 cups cherries, pitted
For the zabaglione:
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons ground lavender
12 egg yolks
1 cup sparkling wine (like prosecco or Gruet Brut)
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
Preparation: Make the cherries: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the sparkling wine, honey and rose petals. Let this mixture come to a simmer and let simmer for five minutes. Turn off the heat and let the rose petals steep in the liquid for another 10 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove the rose petals and transfer the strained liquid back to the pan along with the cherries. Turn the heat to medium and let the cherries simmer for around 15 minutes or until they just start to soften. Remove from the heat and let them cool to room temperature. Transfer to the fridge until ready to serve.
Whisk the heavy cream and lavender in a large, cold bowl until stiff peaks form. Keep this in the fridge for later.
There are a few things we need to get set up before cooking: First, fill a large bowl with ice water. Next, fill a medium saucepan with 2-3 inches of water and bring this to a slow simmer. Now, find a slightly smaller, heat-safe bowl (a stainless steel bowl is the best because it responds to hot and cold temperatures quickly) that can both nest inside the simmering pot of water and also sit inside the ice water bath when the time comes. But for now, whisk the egg yolks in this bowl and keep it nearby on the counter.
Now we are ready to make the zabaglione: In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the sparkling wine, sugar and scraped vanilla bean (or paste). Bring this mixture to a simmer, whisking to make sure all sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and slowly whisk this mixture into the bowl of egg yolks. Now move this bowl to sit on top of and slightly nest inside the pot of simmering water.
Use a clean and dry dish towel to hold the bowl steady as you whisk constantly. As the egg mixture heats up, you are wanting it to thicken. Keep whisking. The way I measure how close I am to the desired consistency is to periodically lift my whisk out of the bowl and let the mixture fall off the whisk while I make a figure eight above the surface. When the figure eight is visible in its entirety on the surface of the mixture, you have reached the promised land.
It often feels like you are whisking and whisking and then all of a sudden the thickening happens all at once. This is just the way it works — if this happens to you and all of a sudden you feel a bit of panic setting in at the thickening egg mixture, don’t worry. Take a breath, use your dry kitchen towel to carefully move the bowl to sit on top of the ice bath and continue whisking. As the zabaglione cools, you can relax and bask in knowing the next time you make this it will feel about a hundred times easier.
Once the zabaglione has cooled completely, whisk in the whipped cream, working quickly to keep as much air inside as possible. Transfer this mixture to a container and keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
To serve: Spoon cherries into the bottom of a bowl or glass. Top with zabaglione and garnish if you’d like with fruit, mint or edible flowers.