The heart of the holiday season has passed, but there is still some celebrating to be done and special meals to be enjoyed. By now we are all looking for lighter desserts, something out of the ordinary. Try a wine gelatin for a change of pace. Many of Italy’s wines work beautifully when sweetened and set with gelatin. Barolo is magnificent sweetened and steeped in winter spices as are many whites and Prosecco. My favorite is made with Nero d’Avola. Topped with whipped cream and chocolate, this dessert is the essence of Sicily in a dessert glass.
In years past, Nero d’Avola was Sicily’s step child grape, used predominantly in the blending of other regional wines, adding substantial color and backbone. Now wine made from the black grape of Avola is a star in it own right. Its body makes it a fine partner for sumptuous cuts of meat and hearty sauces, and it is a perfect choice for beef braised with porcini.
You might wonder how such a powerful wine could work in so delicate a thing as gelatin, but Nero d’Avola has it all – blackberry, plum, fig and vanilla, right along with steel and minerals. With careful consideration it is a complement for milder foods, and that is where I got the idea for the gelatin. Since I was making dessert, I knew I had to tilt the wine’s flavor profile to highlight the fruit and vanilla and downplay the muscle. The addition of sugar brought out the fruity taste, but that big wine flavor still needed a bit of cushion.
The answer, of course, was whipped cream. By sweetening the cream and adding cinnamon, I tied the dessert together into a cohesive whole. And remarkably the heady spice and warmth of the cinnamon brought another layer of flavor to the fore, creating an organic whole. No surprise, I thought, cinnamon is used in so many Sicilian desserts.
In order to make this dessert work, a generous topping of sweetened spiced whipped cream is essential. You want your guests to get a bit of whipped cream with each bite of gelatin. Remember this wine will come to your guests with its full alcoholic content; although it is brought to the boil to dissolve the sugar, it does not linger there, so the alcohol remains. And don’t forget the chocolate shavings. It ties it all together, completing the ensemble.
If you are lucky enough to have some chocolate from Modica’s Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, the most famous chocolate maker in all of Sicily, use it for a decidedly authentic dessert. Their Cioccolato alla cannella ed alla vaniglia (chocolate with cinnamon and vanilla) would be the perfect complement for this dessert. Go ahead. Splurge. For more on their chocolates, visit www.bonajuto.it.
Wine gelatins are fun and easy to make and are an elegant and light ending to any meal. Experiment with wines you enjoy. Some spices that are particularly wine-friendly are cinnamon, star anise, cloves and allspice. You can steep the warm wine in them to infuse the flavors or add a bit to the whipped cream.
Gelatina di Nero d’Avola
makes 8 servings, 1/4 cup each
2 cups Nero d’Avola wine, divided
5 to 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 packet plus 1 teaspoon KNOX Unflavored Gelatine
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate shavings
Pour 1/4 cup wine in a small heatproof bowl and sprinkle gelatin over it. Set aside to soften for 5 minutes. Do not stir. This technique is also known as blooming the gelatin.
Pour remaining 1 3/4 cups wine in a medium saucepan. Add sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. (Boil just long enough to dissolve the sugar. Left too long at the boil, the flavor of the wine will suffer.) Once sugar has dissolved, remove wine from heat and set aside while gelatin finishes softening.
After gelatin has softened, place bowl in a skillet filled with 1 or 2 inches of barely simmering water. Stir until no granules remain and solution is clear. Add to hot wine and combine well.
Place bowl over an ice water bath to cool, stirring occasionally. Pour cooled mixture into serving glasses and refrigerate until set, 4 hours or overnight.
Beat heavy cream with sugar and cinnamon until it has thickened and gently mounds on a spoon. To serve, place a generous dollop of sweetened whipped cream atop gelatin, and top with bittersweet chocolate shavings.
A note on cinnamon: Not all cinnamon is created equal, and not everything we call cinnamon is in fact true cinnamon. My favorite is Vietnamese Saigon Cassia. The trees grow from twenty to thirty years before harvest, and the spice is stronger, darker and sweeter than other varieties. Savory Spice Shop in Denver, Colorado (www.savoryspiceshop.com) sells particularly fine cinnamon. Try theirs once and you will become a convert.