There are some foods that, no matter how popular Italian Cusine is around the world, you just can't find in the UK.
Since moving here Mr. Grad has embraced british cusine quite well, though I admit to cooking alot of Italian based dished because they're usually so quick, cheap and yummy! So he hasn't missed his staple foods too much! But, there have been a few things that he's hankered after, good Salami, proper Italian Sausages, not the spicy kind that I don't know what the heck they are but I've never seen them in Italy, but proper Italian Sausage that you can eat raw on a slice of bread and also, Zuppa Inglese.
Zuppa Inglese, or English Soup in well... English, is a traditional Italian dessert that somewhat resembles the British Trifle but its way more delicious... at least according to Mr. Grad. I think it's an Italian thing. I mean I like it but I don't love it... perhaps its the alcohol taste that is pretty strong! I think I miss the fruit too.
Anyway, Zuppa Inglese is Savoiardi biscuits dipped in Alchermes Liquor and Rum and then layered up between copious amounts of Chocoloate and Vanilla Custard and topped off with whipped cream. It's not for the faint of heart or anyone trying to stick to a diet.
The difficulty in making it in the UK is finding the staple ingredient, Alchermes. Alchermes is a spiced liquor that is bright red in colour and has a really wonderful flavour, kind of aniseedy but sweet and more subtly spiced. You cannot find it anywhere in the UK and the few places online that you can buy it are prohibitively expensive which is really annoying since in Italy its so cheap!
So, Mr Grad was craving a taste of his childhood favourite and after a week or so of searching for Alchermes, there was only one thing to do: Make it myself! I poked around online and found this recipe at All Things Sicillian & More. It takes a few weeks to make, and by make I mean stuff everything in a jar and leave it in the cupboard for a few weeks then add vodka, lots and lots of vodka, oh and some sugar and ta da! It tasted amazing! The addition of a little food colouring for the obligitory red colour (traditionally they used cochenial but you can't find it here and this way it's also vegetarian!)
He had to wait a few more weeks to satiate his craving but boy was he overjoyed by the result! I mean it has such a rustic homemade charm about it, none of this plastic looking, perfectly packed nonsense. It's messy and uneven and looks just like it should! and tastes even better! You could perhaps layer it up in a trifle bowl and make it all neat and tidy but 1. I don't have a trifle bowl, 2. This is how I first ate it and 3. I like the rustic look, turned out onto a plate, dusted with cocoa and then attacked with a giant spoon! Mr Grad likes to add an extra drizzle (or flood) or alchermes over his portion for extra flavour.
For the Custard:
- 750ml Milk
- 6 Egg Yolks
- 150g Caster Sugar
- 120g Plain Flour
- 1tsp Vanilla Extract
- 60g 75% Chocolate - finely chopped
- 250g Savoiardi Biscuits
- 125ml Dark Rum
- 125ml Alchermes
For the Custard:
- In a large saucepan gently heat the milk and vanilla until just shy of boiling.
- In a bowl place the eggs and sugar and whisk together until smooth and creamy then sift in the flour and beat until you have a smooth paste.
- Add the milk to the egg yolks a little at a time, whisking all the time, once you've added all the milk and have a smooth mixture pour it back into the pan and heat gently, stirring often until thickened. If you notice it's a little bit lumpy at this point just give it a good whisk and it'll get rid of them.
- Divide the custard evenly into two bowls, making sure to take out 60g for one.
- To the bowl that has slightly less custard add the chopped chocolate and stir in until melted.
- Cover and leave to cool in the fridge.
- Line an 8" deep sided cake tin with foil.
- In a dish combine the rum and alchermes.
- Dip 1/3 of the Savoiardi into the rum and alkermis mix and place in an even layer on the bottom of the pan.
- Cover with the plain custard, smoothing it out.
- Using half of the remaining Savoiardi once again dip into the rum mixture and layer ontop of the custard.
- Cover with the chocolate custard and layer over the remaining Savoiardi, once again dipped in the Rum mix.
- Cover tightly with cling film and leave in the fridge for 12 hour or overnight.
- Turn out onto a serving tray and top with whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa.