Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that local farm-grown strawberries please me almost as much as wild ones. They’re back now, at least in Massachusetts, which is what makes Strawberries with Marsala Zabaglione finally possible.
Until I was in third or fourth grade the dirt road with its dozen cookie-cutter bungalows where I grew up was an outlier in what was otherwise farmland or undeveloped property that nobody had yet figured out was supposed to be tract houses. The back yards of houses on both sides of the road abutted untilled fields where, for a short time in May or June, we could suss out wild strawberries. They were practically invisible, no larger than marbles. My brothers and I had to get down on our hands and knees and root around the wild rye, daisies, Black-eyed Susans, goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace until we found a cluster of bright red berries. We’d work our way around the field, ignoring the scratches on our forearms.
A wild strawberry tastes like it looks–an explosion of sweetness, with a long stem of regret that it’s over.
Good strawberries ought to be messed with as little as possible. The zabaglione in this recipe is a counterpoint, a foamy textural difference that sets up your mouth for that next little explosion. Zabaglione (za-bull-YOH-ni) sounds like a high-wire act–Direct from a command performance in Novi Pazar! The Flying Zabagliones!–but it’s really a comfort food tricked out in elegant duds through a bit of muscular legerdemain. You beat eggs and sugar and wine, traditionally Marsala, over heat, usually a pot of simmering water, until it turns to an ambrosial foam. Any questions? You can use an electric beater if you don’t give a hoot about tradition. Just don’t overdo things, and take care not to let the mix get too warm lest the eggs start to curdle (you want them to cook, but not curdle). If in doubt, transfer the bowl onto a nearby heatproof surface while you continue beating. Furiously.
Then throw the strawberries in a glass, spoon over the zabaglione, and have at it, right away.
Strawberries with Marsala Zabaglione
- 6 large farm egg yolks
- 6 tablespoons cane sugar
- 6 tablespoons dry Marsala wine–be sure to use a high quality wine
- 1 quart strawberries
- 1 tablespoon coarse raw sugar or, if unavailable, cane sugar
- Combine the yolks and sugar in a medium-sized glass or metal bowl and beat with a whisk for 2-3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Set over a pot with a couple of inches of simmering water, taking care that the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Add the Marsala and continue beating for 10-15 minutes or until it’s super light and fluffy, about 4 times the volume and it reads at least 120 degrees on an instant read thermometer. If the eggs start to cook too quickly, take the bowl off the pot and beat until it’s cooled a bit and then put it back on the heat. When the yolks barely hold a floppy peak, remove from the heat.
- Wash, hull and slice the strawberries. Toss with the coarse sugar.
- Arrange the strawberries in the bottom of 6 small glasses. Top with the zabaglione. Serve immediately with crisp cookies.
As I was making this recipe I began channeling my mother on Christmas Day making a foamy sherry sauce to serve with brandy drenched plum pudding. A light bulb went off–her sherry sauce is a British version of zabaglione. Eggs, sugar, wine.
The two most important ingredients in the success of this sauce are the wine and patience. The Marsala should be dry and of high quality. If it’s too sweet, the sugar will dominate and if it doesn’t taste great, you can’t hide it. In order to get the lovely billowy texture of zabaglione, you’ll have to whisk for a long time over moderate heat. If you rush it by turning up the heat, you risk scrambling the eggs. You can use an electric beater, but why give up the opportunity to work on your guns and delts while making a yummy dessert.
If you don’t mind cold zabaglione, you can make it a few hours ahead and refrigerate it without too much loss of volume. Don’t introduce the strawberries to the zabaglione until right before serving. (I don’t even cut the the strawberries in advance.) If you do everything ahead strawberry juice will dilute the zabaglione.
Prosecco or sherry–again, high-quality–are good alternatives for Marsala.