Desserts by DeMasco
As head of dessert operations at Locanda Verde, Andrew Carmellini's Greenwich Village hotspot, pastry chef Karen DeMasco showcases her favorite Italian ingredients. Here she shares recipes for six sensational desserts
In 2009, Karen DeMasco joined with chef Andrew Carmellini to create desserts (as well as breads and breakfast pastries) for Locanda Verde, Carmellini's energetic and rustic Italian taverna in New York City. Since the day it opened, the vibrant, casual restaurant, located Robert DeNiro's Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca, has become a hotspot for simple yet amazing Italian food, with DeMasco's deeply flavored desserts consistently receiving high praise from critics and customers alike.
Though you can see an Italian influence in many of the recipes in her cookbook, The Craft of Baking (written with La Cucina Italiana's food editor, Mindy Fox), the former pastry chef at Tom Colicchio's Craft now demonstrates a deeper connection to Italy in her sweets. Even desserts with a more Amercian sound to them (like the apple crisp recently featured on the menu) are given an Italian twist.
For La Cucina Italiana, DeMasco drew from her pantry and chose six distinctive Italian ingredients—eucalyptus honey, nutella, white balsamic vinegar, Sicilian pistachios, Lambrusco and Vialone nano rice—to create delights that you can make at home. (See the recipes, above, at right.)
“These ingredients are some of my favorites, and I use them all the time in different ways,” says the James Beard Award-winner. “These recipes are pretty approachable, and I think it’d be great if they end up in someone’s repertoire.”
Here is a little about each of the Italian ingredients highlighted in her recipes:
Eucalyptus honey: Though you can substitute another honey for eucalyptus in this moist pear cake, DeMasco, says that the floral notes in eucalyptus go especially well with the pears. You can find it in some supermarkets and cheese shops and can order it from Gustiamo.
Lambrusco: This red wine is made all over italy from a prolific grape of the same name. Made in the frizzante style, this fruity wine has a slight fizz. Though a dry Lambrusco might be best for sipping, a semisweet, non DOC wine, (the kind super popular in the United States in the 1970s) works best in this elegant dessert featuring fresh figs poached in the wine.
Nutella: Nutella, a smooth hazelnut and chocolate spread (a take on gianduja, really), is beloved by Italians and is available in supermarkets here (usually near the peanut butter). In this cookie sandwich, the spread is used to both flavor the oatmeal cookies and as a filling.
Sicilian pistachios: Slightly longer and thinner than those grown in the Middle East, Sicilian pistachios, also known as Bronte pistchaios for where they are grown, have a slighlty stronger, sharper taste, which may be due to Sicily's volcanic soil. They are also more brilliantly hued, which makes them a favorite for pastry chefs. (DeMasco uses them in this decadent chocolate custard tart for texture and flavor in the filling as well as a fun and bright topping to the finished tart.) They can, however, be expensive and hard to find outside of Italy. Look for Sicilian pistachios at specialy food markets, Italian markets, and by mail order. BuonItalia is a good source that sells them shelled and unshelled.
Vialone Nano: Grown in the Veneto, this rice is regarded by many Italians to be the premium rice for making risotto because it can absorbs twice its weight in liquid, which makes for a supple and creamy result. In this recipe for a sweet arancini filled with grape jam, the rice is cooked in slightly sweetened milk flavored with lemon zest, vanilla bean, and, surprise, bay leaf. The cooled rice gets shaped into balls and filled with grape jam before getting coated in cinnamon-scented breadcrumbs and fried. You can find Vialone Nano at Italian food markets and specialty grocers. Arborio, another risotto rice that's more widely avialable here, can also substitute.
White balsamic vinegar: Like the more familiar dark red version, this condiment comes from Modena, Italy, but is made by a different process. Both the traditional version and this one are made with white Trebbiano grapes, but for white vinegar the grapes are cooked under pressure to keep them from caramelizing and coloring. (For traditional balsamic, the grape must is cooked until concentrated and deeply colored.) While not commonly used in desserts, the white vinegar adds an intriguing acidity to the caramel in a fruit dessert that also features orange slices marinated in it and a merigue flavored with it.
Want to read more about Karen DeMasco? Look here.
Photo by Nina Choi
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