Ponce is one of those fun Italian words lifted from the English language—from the word punch, in this case—just like bistecca, taken from the English word beefsteak. This particular punch, ponce alla romana, was commonly served at ‘fancy dinner parties’ in 19th-century Italy, according to Pellegrino Artusi, just before the meat course to help the stomach get through the remainder of the dinner. The practice of preparing the stomach for more food during a big meal is an old one, with roots in a rather unsavory habit of the ancient Romans: excusing oneself from a grand feast to visit a designated room known as the vomitorium. Today, echoes of that bizarre custom live on in the French habit of breaking during a lengthy meal to drink an aquavit called marc (which in Provence is called le trou, or hole, since it’s believed the alcohol burns a hole through the stomach’s contents); and also in the after-dinner digestif custom. Interestingly, in theory this punch serves as both a digestive aid and, given the high content of citrus, a palate cleanser as well.
If you’re not in the habit of hosting seven-course dinners, you might try a glass of Roman punch as an after-dinner cocktail, very nice this time of year given its festive, pretty color and citrus flavors.
Ingredients for six servings
Bring 1 & 2/3 cups of the water to a boil with 1 & 1/4 cups of the sugar. Remove from heat as soon as the liquid reaches a boil. Add the lemon and orange zest and squeeze in the juice of both lemons and both oranges. Let cool and transfer to a ceramic or plastic dish and cover with a lid or cling wrap. Freeze until it reaches a slushy consistency (about 2 hours).
Bring the remaining sugar and water to a boil. Add a dash of vanilla and stir vigorously. Cook the liquid you have a very thick, sticky syrup. Remove from the heat but do not cool. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until very stiff. While the syrup is still warm, pour it over the egg whites and whisk briskly to combine. Let the mixture cool thoroughly.
Use an ice cream scoop to distribute the citrus sorbet into six glasses and top with the sweet meringue. Pour a shot of rum into each glass and garnish with orange zest (optional). Serve with a cocktail stirrer.