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Have you ever been to Bassano del Grappa? Years ago I used to think the “grappa” part of the name referred to the river that goes through the town. It sort of made sense: grappa is a drink so a river would be named after it. But no, it is named after a mountain, Monte Grappa, that was the site of many battles in both world wars. The local soldiers are called Alpini (Alpines) and when not in combat, wear distinctive hats with a feather in them called cappelli Alpini. The most talked about structure in the town is the wooden bridge that crosses the Brenta River (not the Grappa river!), that splits the town in two: the Ponte degli Alpini (also called Ponte Vecchio). A bridge has been in this location since the 1200s and at either ends of the bridge there are bars/restaurants where you can enjoy a drop of local grappa or an aperitivo Mezzoemezzo (Nardini) and a snack. It really is a lovely town, well worth a visit of a few days.
When I was there in May I stayed in an Air BnB apartment, outside the perimeter of the old town but very close to the train station. It meant that I could easily stroll into town, but also park the rental car close by and meet friends arriving by train. My friend Amanda happened to be staying in Venice at the same time, an easy train ride from Bassano. So we met one rainy day, by the railway station and spent a lovely day walking around Bassano. The historic centre is perfect for meandering, with lots of piazze, historical buildings, arched walkways, shops and wine bars to fill your day. We stopped at the delicious “Bottega del Pane” for cakes and took a long walk along the Brenta River (under umbrellas), the blue-green waters tumbled past us, swollen with the recent heavy rain.  We ended up at a museum dedicated to Hemingway, (who spent time in the area during WW1) but didn’t stop as we had a lunch booking at Cardellino, on the other side of town.

The restaurant was very much old style: “la cucina della memoria” is the subtext on their website. I had the polenta and baccalà and a white asparagus dish. My favourite dish of the day however was the “crema gialla della nonna”, which was served with biscotti. So what is “crema della nonna”? It literally means “grandmother’s cream”, but refers to custard or pastry cream. Just saying it to an Italian person brings back memories of childhood: a sweet, thick and soft dessert that your nonna (grandmother) would make, that you would eat with fruit or cake or maybe just on its own, by the spoonful. Cardellino served a crema gialla (yellow), which was lemon scented and just delightful. Several flat biscuits decorated the side of the glass in which it was served, and they were used to scoop up the soft dessert. The biscuits looked exactly like “lingue di gatto” (cat’s tongues), a recipe I had learnt from Enza at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school in Sicily when I was running a workshop there a few years ago. I couldn’t wait to make this one back at home.

Not having any lemons on the day, I opted for 70% cocoa dark chocolate, which I had found in the pantry. Perfect. Chocolate crema della nonna would work just fine! These two recipes go so well together – one uses egg whites and the other uses egg yolks. Another great thing about this dessert, in particular the chocolate crema, is that you could easily make it a couple of days before a dinner party, in preparation. That said I know it would not last in my house – every time you would open the door of the fridge and see one at the back, a spoonful of it would disappear. Surely that is what all nonnas would expect to happen!

And in other news….

  • SOUTHERN PUGLIA TOUR – YESSSS! It is nine months away but I am so looking forward to being back in beautiful Southern Puglia. There are still places left on the tour which is being run through Southern Visions Travel and runs from 1 May – 7 May 2020. More details on my tour page
  • COOKING CLASSES IN MELBOURNE – I have added some classes for the start of 2020 and there are still just a few spots for 2019 classes. Click here for more details

Crema della nonna con lingue di gatto

makes about 16
70g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
70g icing sugar, sifted
70g egg whites (at room temperature)
70g plain flour
pinch salt
½ tsp pure vanilla essence

Beat the butter and icing sugar in a bowl with a whisk until a smooth thick batter forms. Divide the egg whites into two equal portions and the flour into two halves. Add the half-portion of egg whites and whisk until incorporated; then add half of the flour (sifted) a bit at a time, beating well after each addition. When smooth, add the remaining egg whites and whisk until incorporated; then add the rest of flour (sifted) a bit at a time. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag with a 10mm nozzle and place in the fridge for half an hour.

Preheat the oven 200C (conventional). Line two baking trays with baking paper and shape lozenges 6-7cm long and 1.5cm wide, making sure you keep the nozzle slightly above the tray. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until pale golden. Remove from the tray immediately using a rubber spatula and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Store for 2-3 days in a sealed container (note they do soften a bit with time).

makes 6 x75 ml
500 ml full fat milk
½ tsp vanilla bean paste
4 eggs, yolks only (80g in weight)
40g caster sugar
50g corn flour, sifted
pinch salt
100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa), broken into small pieces
bitter cocoa powder, for serving

Place the milk and vanilla in a medium-large saucepan on low-medium heat and gently bring to just below boiling point. While the milk is warming, place the egg yolks, sugar, flour and pinch of salt in a large heat-proof bowl and whisk until well combined and creamy. When the milk is heated and just before boiling point, remove from the heat. Strain the milk and pour in a slow steady stream into the egg mixture, whisking the whole time so no lumps form. When you have added all the milk, pour the lot back into the saucepan and return it to your stovetop on low heat.

Continue to mix with the wooden spoon as the custard heats up and starts to thicken. The custard should cook 15 minutes or more, to make sure the cornflour is well cooked – remember not to stop stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan. If you see any lumps form, smooth them out with the spoon against the side of the pan. Eventually the custard will thicken, becoming more difficult to stir and when it gets to the point where it is noticeably so, remove from the heat and pour into a heat proof ceramic bowl. Add the chocolate and stir until melted and evenly incorporated into the custard. If lumps have formed, you can pour it into a sieve and push the pastry cream through with a scraper. Pour into individual serving cups to cool. Place covered in the fridge for a few hours before serving.

Scatter cocoa powder on the chocolate crema using a fine sieve and serve with a couple of lingue di gatto on the side for scooping up the crema (and more on the side).



  • Anne Wallace says:

    I so enjoy your writing. You describe your adventures in a way that inspires me to visit every spot in Italy you describe and make every delicious dish you post. Can’t wait to make this dessert!

    Thanks for taking the time to share your world.

    Seattle, WA

    • Dear Anne, thank you for your very kind words. I am glad it inspires you to travel, which enriches our lives so much. I do hope you enjoy making this recipe. Paola

  • Anna Noble says:

    It is the husband that makes this crema dessert at the superb restaurant in Bassano. His speciality!! He is also the age to be a Nonno!

  • Stephen John Collicoat says:

    Wonderful description of your travels as always Paola, and this recipe looks so good and easy to make. Thank you.

  • The crema looks lovely. And Bassano as well, even more alluring perhaps under the rain.

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