Hemingway is often credited with the phrase, Dessert is for those that don’t drink enough.
Whether he said it or not, it’s something that often saunters through my head when my eyes pass over the ‘dolci’ section of a dinner menù, the same way they do when I pass a women’s shoe store or a barber shop: I notice stuff, but just.
It’s my least favourite part of the meal, mostly because puddings, desserts, dolci or whatever you like to call them, are all about richness, piling on, long after I have the tendency to be already full. The dessert, well, it’s just for those that didn’t already get their sugar in their red wine. (Here in Italy, limoncello is the classic way to end a fish-based meal out, perhaps because white wine tends to have a lot less residual sugar than red).
On the odd evenings when I do crave something a little sweet, it’s only marginally so, like this pounded grain-based sweet, doused with vincotto and lightly-sweetened ricotta. It’s very traditional here in Puglia, where the region still functions as the rest of Italy’s bread basket. And where you have bread, you have wheat berries.
You boil the wheat berries with a little sugar or honey until soft, which is usually around an hour or so. In the past, these cooking times were much, much longer. As was an overnight soak, two steps dramatically truncated by the invention of cryovac bags (or vacuum-packing), an invention as important as the pressure cooker, regarding the modern consumption of grains and legumes.
Drain them and when they are still slightly warm and still a bit absorbent, you add some vincotto, homemade always best. Chill.
Spoon into a glass or onto a plate and sweeten some ricotta and today I used the school’s vanilla sugar (whole pods collided with caster sugar in a food processor).
Alternate layers, douse with more vincotto (and some add mint and/or home-made candied fruit).
In the mouth, the little kernels give in gently to the tooth, supple yet textured and completely satisfying. The vincotto delivers a rich, fruity complexity- an intense red wine, just without the alcohol- the ricotta, a light and ethereal airiness, a billowing cloud over the heady, late summer grape vines.
Here in the school’s kitchen, as my old dented spoon slips in increasing deeper dips towards the bottle of the glass, I nibble and consider Hemingway again and his profound contributions to humanity.
It’s my understanding that he wrote books too.