To round out an intimate Easter dinner with elegant simplicity, one can do no better than the classic Italian semifreddo. At first glance, the name seems contradictory, since it means "partly cold (frozen)" and yet the thing is actually completely frozen.
The usual explanation is that the light, mousse-like texture remains soft even when frozen solid, and doesn't feel quite as cold in the mouth as gelato, sorbet, or ice cream. It's a composition of thickened egg yolks whipped with sugar and folded into whipped cream and sometimes, as is done here, well-beaten egg whites. It's then spooned into a mold or loaf pan and frozen.
According to some Italian cooking authorities, it probably goes back no further than the late nineteenth century, making claims that it may have been the precursor of modern ice cream seem doubtful.
But let's leave the explanations of its name and place in history to others. For our purposes, how it started isn't terribly important. What matters is that it's not only easy to make and requires no special equipment, it can be made several days ahead and is a delightfully impressive finish for any celebratory feast.
This is finished with a simple compote of the berries that flavor it, but if you want to really gild this lily, top it instead with the rich chocolate sauce included in the footnote and garnish it with a few sliced berries.
4 pints fresh strawberries
About 1¼ cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups chilled heavy cream
3 tablespoons orange liqueur
Mint sprigs, for garnish, optional
1. Wash the berries and set aside 1 pint. Cap, core, and halve the remaining 3 pints and sprinkle them with about ¼ cup sugar or to taste, and let stand until sugar is dissolved, about 20-30 minutes. Coarsely puree them in a food processor or blender, pulsing: Don't completely liquefy but leave some small chunks.
2. Line a 9-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap. Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a clean glass or copper bowl and the yolks in the upper pot of a double boiler or a heatproof bowl. Put 1 inch of water in the double boiler bottom or a pot into which the bowl will nestle without touching the water. Bring it to a simmer. Gradually beat ½ cup of sugar and ¼ cup water into the yolks and place the pan or bowl over the simmering water. Beat until it's fluffy and ribbons thickly off the whisk. Remove the top boiler/bowl from over the simmering water and whisk until cooled.
3. Whip the egg whites until frothy, then sprinkle ¼ cup sugar over them and continue whipping them until they form soft peaks. Using a chilled metal bowl and whisk, whip the cream to soft peaks. Fold the cream into yolk mixture and then fold in the whites. Gently fold in the berry puree and 1 tablespoon of the liqueur. Spoon it into the prepared pan, level the top, and tap gently to get out any large air pockets. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight. Keep frozen until ready to serve.
4. An hour before serving, cap, core, and slice the reserved pint of berries. Sprinkle them with sugar to taste and 2 tablespoons of liqueur. Set them aside to macerate for at least 45 minutes or up to an hour, stirring occasionally. When you're ready to serve, remove the semifreddo from the freezer, uncover, invert it over a plate or platter, and lift away the pan. Remove the plastic wrap and cut it crosswise into 6 even slices. Divide them among serving plates, top with the macerated berries, garnish with mint if liked, and serve at once.
Footnote: Strawberry Semifreddo with Chocolate Orange Sauce. An alternative presentation is to omit the pint of macerated berries and serve it with a rich, orange-flavored chocolate sauce, made as follows. Cut a 1-by-3-inch strip of zest from an orange with a vegetable peeler. Put it in a small saucepan with 1 cup of heavy cream, bring it to a simmer over medium low heat and simmer 3 minutes. Remove it from the heat, remove and discard the zest, and stir in 8 ounces (1 generous cup) chopped bittersweet chocolate or bittersweet chocolate chips. Let stand until the chocolate softens, then whisk the sauce until smooth and stir in 1 tablespoon of orange liqueur. Serve warm or at room temperature.