Shiraz grapes are used by papa` to make his vino every wine season and chosen for its high sugar content and flavour with touches of berry, coffee, chocolate, black pepper and violets. He claims it makes the best home-made red wine and we tend to agree with that point of view. It has been his passion for over 40 years and winemaking in our family goes back a few generations; my recount of this can be found here. So when the Cucina Conversations ladies decided that this month’s topic was going to evolve around drinks or creating a dish using a drink of some sort, my thoughts automatically went to papa`’s wine and of course the vin cotto mamma cooks down from the grape must every wine season. I have cooked and shared many family sweet recipes using vin cotto on the blog, and while researching I continue to find many more wonderful recipes incorporating this amazing syrup that I call 'liquid gold'. This recipe for semifreddo will surely please and if you haven't cooked with vin cotto before, this will be a great introduction.
Grape juice was highly regarded by ancient Greeks and Romans in its use to sweeten wines long before sugar cane was introduced. They even experimented with wine in different stages of making and in their cuisine. According to the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, vin cotto (also known as vino cotto or mosto cotto) differed by concentration and type of red grape used and was referred to back then by its Latin names - defrutum (one-half of its reduced volumn) or sapa (one-third of its reduced volumn). Essentially concentrated grape syrup was used for preserving fruits such as quince, to sweeten and add flavouring to sauces and added to different types of vegetable and meat dishes. Athenaeus, the Greek grammarian and author of Deipnosophistai (The Gastronomers) makes one mention of a fish tinged with grape must, which he recounts as a paradigm of the art of cooking; noting that such creations were what saved man from cannibalism! Its use over time has extended itself to many sweet and savoury dishes including breads; and more recently been known to be drizzled on top of freshly fallen snow for a scirobetta also known as granita, and mixed with soda water for a refreshing drink suitable for all ages.
The making of vin cotto has not changed over the centuries and is very simple to produce at home as it doesn't require any specialized equipment. The selection of wine grapes however is paramount and only a variety that is high in sugar should be used. After pressing the grapes, the must which is freshly pressed grape juice not yet a product of fermentation is obtained. The filtered grape juice is brought to a gentle boil during which time it is allowed to simmer for an hour and skimmed of any impurities that come to the surface and allowed to slowly cook down until reduced in volume. Mamma cooks it until it is reduced by 1/2 the original volume. This can take close to 3 hours depending on the quantity and should be watched carefully towards the end to ensure that it doesn't over-reduce or burn. The vin cotto should be condensed and caramelized to have the thickness of maple syrup. The syrup is then cooled and poured into clean bottles sealed with a cork top or clasp seal. It is best stored in a cool dark pantry or refrigerated and can keep up to a year; well only if you can resist temptation.
Papa` loves ice-cream all year round and happy to try a new flavour, so I thought this semifreddo, which is a light semi-frozen desert would please his taste buds especially seeing his favourite grape variety - shiraz and his vin cotto is incorporated. With the addition of chocolate, cherries and hazelnuts this desert is absolutely moreish. I had frozen some summer red plump cherries especially for this, but other frozen berries of choice would work just as well. I also love the idea of replacing the cherries during the winter season with either sultanas or dried shiraz grapes soaked in liqueur; and along with the hazelnuts it could be considered a true autumn/winter desert! This recipe has been adapted from Il Baronello. This company along with Maccora Vinocotto produce their own vin cotto whose recipe has also been passed down from generations. Their websites include many varied recipe ideas and both these products are the closest to the 'home made' vin cotto and Australian made - in keeping with my philosophy on buying local.
Semifreddo al Vincotto
This semifreddo was made with our family’s vin cotto. Unless you make your own, you will need to purchase commercially produced vin cotto and will find it in stores as well as the two websites mentioned above. This desert does not require an ice-cream maker and can be made a few weeks in advance making it perfect for entertaining. It can be kept frozen for up to 3 weeks.
· 600 ml double cream
· 150 g caster sugar
· 50 g cocoa powder, sifted
· 4 eggs, separated
· 3 tablespoons flavoured liqueur ,ie: Frangelico or Tia Maria
· 3 tablespoons icing sugar
· 150 ml vin cotto, plus extra for serving
· 80 g roasted hazelnuts, skin removed and roughly chopped
· 2 cups dark cherries, stoned and cut in half (or use frozen cherries)
· White chocolate shavings to decorate (optional)
Grease a 23 cm x 8 cm loaf pan (I used 2, 26 cm x 9 cm loaf pans) and line with baking paper allowing sides to overhang.
Preparation for custard:
Pour 200 ml of cream in a small saucepan and bring just to the boil. In a heatproof bowl, whisk the caster sugar, cocoa powder and egg yolks. Pour the hot cream over the egg mixture, whisking continuously until combined. Pour mixture back into saucepan and cook over a low heat and whisk continuously until it thickens (3-4 minutes) or coats the back of a spoon. Do not let it come to a boil. Remove from heat and place over a bowl of iced water to cool. Cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent it from drying and allow cooling for 40 minutes.
In a dry bowl, whip egg whites until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
In a dry bowl, whip egg whites until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, whip the remaining cream until soft peaks form. Add in the liqueur and icing sugar and continue to whip. Gently fold the cooled chocolate custard into the whipped cream and then lightly fold in the whisked egg whites.
Gently fold in the cherries and hazelnuts. Then gently add in the vin cotto so that there are swirls in the mixture. Pour into the lined tin and cover with plastic wrap. Freeze until firm (6 hours or overnight).
Remove the semifreddo out of the freezer and set aside for a few minutes. Turn the desert out onto a serving platter and decorate with extra cherries or roasted hazelnuts. Slice portions and finally drizzle some extra vin cotto. Serve.
There are other sweets in my recipe index that use vin cotto, and I look forward to extending its use to savoury dishes over time. Meanwhile, remember to also visit my fellow bloggers posts and read about their chosen recipes:
- Marialuisa from Marmellata di Cipolle is excited to share her love of a cocktail using Pimm's;
- Lisa from Italian Kiwi will prepare a stiff drink that goes by the name Gamba di Legno;
- Daniela from La Dani Gourmet will make a light desert using melon called Gelo di Melone;
- Rosemarie from Turin Mamma will prepare a refreshing coffee and granita delight called Sicilian Mezzo Freddo; and
- Francesca, from Pancakes and Biscotti will make an aperitif called Prosecco all'Anguria.