I’ve enjoyed some wonderful semifreddo desserts in Italy, and when I make them at home, they are always a hit, and surprisingly simple. I am traveling back to Italy shortly for a few private tours, as well as our Bike the Amarone Wine Roads tour, and we will be spending a few days near Verona. Besides producing wonderful wines, Verona is also home to the “Pesca di Verona IGP”, some of the best peaches in Italy. So looking forward to my visit, and finding wonderful local peaches here at home, I was inspired to create this recipe.
The trademark “Pesca di Verona IGP” applies to peaches and nectarines which are certified as to the varietal, sugar content, taste balance, color and size. The IGP regulations guarantee the locale of production, restricting it to 18 communes in the province of Verona. There are a total of 22 varieties, with early, mid and late season availability. They are easily identified by their special packaging. These peaches and nectarines are a big business in this area, involving thousands of farms, over 100,00 tons of product for in excesss of 60 million euro annually. Peach desserts are a specialty of Verona, and often include almonds and amaretti, an almond flavored cookie.
Semifreddo translates to ‘half cold’, and refers to an entire class of semi-frozen desserts, with flavors ranging from chocolate to coffee to hazelnut to an endless array of fruit based versions. Today, the majority of recipes I see for semifreddo are made by combining equal parts ice cream (or gelato, if they are Italian) with whipped cream. However, a traditionalist would cringe at these modern versions.
A good semifreddo has a very specific texture, a perfect balance between hard and creamy, lighter and softer than ice cream. Traditional recipes use one part whipped cream combined with one part custard, combined with the flavor component. For semifreddo all’italiana, this custard is an Italian meringue, egg whites whipped with a warm sugar syrup, producing a smooth and shiny meringue.
My cooking is all about maximizing the flavors with a minimum of fuss. I don’t end up with the perfect semifreddo, but I do end up with a delicious dessert without spending all day in the kitchen. Here, I use the classic ingredients – whipped cream, meringue, and a flavor component, pureed peaches with almonds and amaretti. But I just used a basic, simple meringue – no simple syrup, thermometer and determining ‘soft ball stage’, just egg whites mixed with granulated sugar. In the recipe below, I also simply mixed the three main ingredients together – the meringue, the whipped cream, and the peach puree.
Semifreddo di Pesche ed Amaretti
2 lbs. ripe yellow peaches
12 – 14 amaretti
1/2 cup toasted blanched almonds
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
3 large egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap.
Peel and pit the peaches, quarter them, and put them in a food processor with the amaretti and toasted almonds. Puree until smooth, about 2 minutes.
In a large bowl, whip cream to medium peaks, set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the egg whites, sugar and sea salt to stiff peaks. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg mixture into the whipped cream.
Pour the peach mixture into a bowl and fold in the whipped cream and the egg whites. Pour into the loaf pan and freeze for at least 4 hours.
Turn out onto a serving plate, remove the plastic wrap. Cut into inch wide slices and serve immediately, garnished with toasted almonds, peach slices and whipped cream.