There’s a reason that the Amalfi Coast is on the top of any respectable wedding planner’s list –as one of the world’s most romantic and evocative places, it’s no wonder that so many couple want to get married here. For those who don’t know, it’s the stretch of coastline that runs alongside the Gulf of Salento, extending from Positano to Vietri sul Mare.
The director Roberto Rossellini fell in love with the area in the mid 1940s. “Those who live on the Coast are mad, they’re drunk on sunshine,” he often said, “but they possess the strength of imagination.” And his enthusiasm spread to the Hollywood stars of the era, who flocked to the area, bringing the region into the collective consciousness.
This land has also been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. And while it’s highly unlikely that one of the reasons for this decision was Salvatore De Riso’s famous “la Delizia al limone” dessert, it very well could have been. This irresistible dish, an authentic culinary manifesto of the region, is the stuff that legends are made of: created in 1989, by a then-very-young Sal, (who is today the 2010/2011 Italian Pastry Champion according to the Accademia Maestri Pasticceri Italiani) it is still his most requested dish – along with the pear and ricotta tart.
A stop at his pastry shop in Minori is practically obligatory, thanks to the magic of the dish that’s managed to win over palates as divergent as Prince Rainier of Monaco and Pope John Paul II. “La Delizia” is one of those universally-loved creations: sweet, but not too-sweet, soft but with varying consistencies that keeps it interesting, apparently light and airy but with an extraordinary perfume, it’s like poetry on a plate.
And for the first time, this signature recipe of one of Italy’s most renowned pastry chefs, is available in English, a FDL exclusive. So what is all the fuss about?
Well, imagine a small, snowy dome – evoking the shape of a delicate breast -- topped with a dollop of ribbed cream and then, a thinly sliced strip of lemon rind. The dome is made from a special Pan di Spagna, or Génoise cake, which literally melts on your tongue with a pleasing sour hint from the ground almonds in the batter. The spoon encounters no resistance at entry, the centre of this delicate cake encompasses a white lemon cream filling, so intense that it will make your eyes close automatically.
Bringing the spoon to your lips, the scent will bring you to a lemon grove hovering over the Gulf of Sorrento and the scent is exactly as it would be were you to pick a fruit and bring it to your nose, breathing in the smell from the exact point it was taken from the branch. Again, to best explain this fragrance, you also have to add a bit of freshly-washed laundry hung out to dry under the Amalfi sunshine.
The filling of limoncello (the traditional lemon-based liqueur from Amalfi) doesn’t carry with it the harshness of alcohol that can be found in some liqueur-filled sweets, but serves as a counterweight to the fullness of the cream, although there’s only a small amount of it. The job of this lemon cream filling is to infiltrate into every corner of the cake.
Despite his success, Sal De Riso hasn’t lost his characteristic modesty. Even after television made him famous in his native Italy, even after the attention he received in 1999 for having created the largest cake in the world on the anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s birthday (a pyramid of chocolate weighing 500 kilos, decorated with 300 sugar-glazed images of scenes from the director’s films).
His books carefully and precisely describe his dishes, without keeping any ingredients or steps secret or mysterious. His generosity is that of a true master, one who isn’t jealous of his talent. If, when in Minori, you don’t see him rushing among the tables of his seaside pastry shop, it’s most likely because he’s hard at work in his laboratory – a one thousand square metre space in a nearby village called Tramonti.
As De Riso says, «All of my products, whether sweet or savoury, are a tribute to my land and to all of Southern Italy: the gold of the Amalfi lemons, the Annurca apples, the Giffoni hazlenuts, the Tramonti ricotta, the citrus fruits from Campania, the tomatoes from San Marzano and extra-virgin olive oil.»
If you don’t have immediate plans to pay a visit to this region of Italy – and to watch Sal in person as he creates and serves his dishes – you can still enjoy his signature dish, “Delizia al limone”, which has conquered the world: it can be found at Harrods in London, as well as other specialty gourmet shops around the world. For a complete list, check here.
Photo courtesy Salderiso.it