Food Bytes" The Tuscan Seduction" in sunday Express by Monish Gujral

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Monish Gujral Express News ServiceLast Updated : 05 Aug 2011 07:08:08 PM IST
On a trip to Italy in June, I was invited for a Roman cookout by my dear friend Benny the Chef, who practices ancient Roman Style of cooking. I was surprised to see a lavish spread of food and exotic dishes—roasted tomato with fresh Mozarella cheese, warm goat cheese salad with pine nuts, orange glaze chicken, aubergines slices sautéed and sprinkled with Italian seasoning, zucchini strips, grilled, brushed with olive oil and served with cheese sauce, smoked salmon cured with beetroot juice and my favorite authentic Italian tiramisu and home made gelatto .
What is Tiramisu? Think of a very light chocolate pudding. Very light. Think along the lines of mocha-flavored whipped cream. Then, imagine this almost-like-mocha-flavored-whipped-cream concoction on a lady finger pastry soaked—or kissed—with strong espresso coffee. Suddenly, you get a teeny explosion of chocolate on your tongue that disappears in a flash.
Layered cakes have been around for a long time. The idea in Tiramisu is not in the technique of layering, but in its components: coffee, cream, cheese and liquor. Also known as “Tuscan Trifle”, the dessert was initially created in Siena, Tuscany. The occasion was a visit by Grand Duke Cosimo de’Medici III, in whose honor the concoction was dubbed zuppa del duca (the duke’s soup). He brought the dessert back with him to Florence. In the 19th Century, after it became popular with English men of arts who lived in Italy, it travelled to England. Other stories, about how Tiramisu became the favourite of Venice’s courtesans, who needed a “pick me up” (the literal translation of “tirami-su”) to fortify themselves between amorous sessions.
The original recipe called for custard and only recently has Mascarpone cheese been substituted. The basic ingredients are eggs, mascarpone cheese, ladyfingers, cream, espresso coffee, liquor —brandy, marsala, rum are some of the spirits used—a little bit of sugar, and cocoa or shaved chocolate. Mascarpone is a triple-creme cheese. It’s made from the milk of cows that have been fed special grass filled with herbs and flowers. Ladyfingers are sweet, little, fairly dry, finger-shaped sponge cakes. Countless variations for Tiramisu exist. Some cooks use other cakes or sweet, yeasted breads, such as panettone, in place of ladyfingers. Other cheese mixtures are used as well, some containing raw eggs, and others containing no eggs at all. Other liquors are frequently substituted for the traditional Marsala wine in both the coffee and the cheese mixture, including dark rum, Madeira, port, brandy and cognac.
Tiramisu is considered a semifreddo—a dessert served cold, but not frozen. This has many variations, the only constant being the mascarpone cheese. There are many mouthwatering innovations such as strawberry Tiramisu which is made of strawberry flavoured cream, Venetian Tiramisu with a hint of orange. Some say Tiramisu is from Siena, a Tuscan town that I love. Tuscan Tiramisu is made from a grappa sabayon and the mascarpone has been replaced by coffee pastry cream; my favourite one is the Belgian cream Tiramisu .
One evening, I strolled into a quaint dessert shop on the old pebbled walkway in Milan. The bakery had an old world charm, with heavy wooden doors and walnut wooden flooring and red lanterns on the walls. On inquiring from the charming shop assistant what the speciality of the bakery was, she said it was famous for Belgium Cream Tiramisu. One bite into the layered treat filled with the original melted Belgian chocolate cream left no doubt on the shop’s reason to boast of its invention.

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First chef from India to be invited to Le cordon Bleu to demonstrate in Paris. Monish is credited with the trailblazing turn-around of Moti Mahal, from being a small but iconic presence in Delhi, to becoming a multi-national corporation that is well on its way to defining how the world eats Indian food. A traditionalist, Monish has remained true to the signature dishes that made Moti Mahal a legend, while reinventing the dining experience into one that is exciting and avant garde to suit modern sensibilities.

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