Food & Drink: A-Z of treats

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The Independent Culture
Z is for Zuppa Inglese, which concludes our alphabet of sweet treats. Franco Taruschio, who serves it at his Walnut Tree Inn in Skerrid, Abergavenny, south Wales, believes that it dates back to a day when Nelson's sailors landed at Naples armed with bottles of rum. Not content with the fruit offered at the end of a meal, they asked for something else and were offered sponge cakes. This inspired the sailors to show their hosts how to make trifle. They soaked the sponge in rum, added chopped fruit, and topped the lot with Italian custard - which also begins with a Z, zabaione. Thus Zuppa Inglese, 'English soup', was invented.


Serves 4

200g/7oz good sponge cake or fingers

175g/6oz fresh or drained, canned apricots

For the confectioners' custard:

3 egg yolks

90g/3oz caster sugar

40g/1 1/2 oz flour

1/2 litre/ 3/4 pint warm milk

1/2 vanilla pod/few drops vanilla extract

1 slice lemon peel, pith removed

1/2 litre/ 3/4 pint whipped cream

Marsala wine to taste

rum to taste

If using fresh apricots, halve and poach in a little sugar syrup (290ml/

1/2 pint water, 110g/4oz sugar, drain and leave to cool).

To make the custard, whisk the egg yolks in the top of a bain-marie. Add the sugar and whisk until creamy. Whisk in the sieved flour, making sure there are no lumps. Add the milk a little at a time, always whisking, then the vanilla pod and lemon peel. Place the bain-marie on its base: the water in the base should be only gently rippling. Whisk the egg mixture until it thickens. Remove the pan from the heat and leave the custard to cool. Before using the custard, remove the vanilla pod and lemon peel.

Cut the sponge into 1cm/ 1/2 in slices. Divide the slices between two trays and sprinkle Marsala on one half and rum on the other half. The sponge must be evenly soaked but not soggy.

Layer the slices of sponge alternately, putting a layer of custard between each one. Place the zuppa in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Before serving, spread the whipped cream over the top and sides; decorate with drained poached apricots.