Just Nuts about Hazelnuts…

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Piemonte is one of the food and wine world’s best (or worst) kept secrets. Little wonder that the Slow Food Movement is headquartered here because seriously, there is so much great food and wine packed in this little region of Italy than is really fair. Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, & Arneis are but a few of the wine grape varieties that enjoy near legendary status, grown as they are in famous Appellations like Barolo, Alba, Barbaresco, Asti & Gattinara.

Then there’s the food, white truffles, chestnuts, amazing cheeses, rice, all manner of game meats and hazelnuts. Believe me the Piedmontese are literally nuts about hazelnuts, especially when combined with chocolate and of course this is the where the famous Ferrero family of Ferrero Rocher and Nutella fame are based. What culinary extremes, home to not only some of the world’s most highly regarded wines and rare perfumed fungi but also some of the most widely available and popular sugary confections on the planet.

hazelnuts

But why is the chocolate and hazelnut combination so strong here? The Hazelnut part is easily explained, the climate and terrain of the “Langhe” has been well suited to the cultivation of hazelnuts for centuries, but when the new fashion for cocoa was at its peak in Turin during the late 1700’s this fad ran head long into Napoleon’s Regency of Piedmonte. At that very time around the early 1800’s, restrictive trade sanctions and a physical blockade (sound familiar) prevented cocoa and other luxury imports from reaching destinations under Napoleonic control.

Legend claims that it wasn’t much later, that resourceful Piemontese pastry cooks came up with a smooth, sweet and creamy, firm paste of roasted hazelnuts and bitter cocoa to manage the scarcity of the more highly desirable chocolate. They called this confection Gianduja after a carnival character (pictured below) who was a symbol of independence  Interestingly the development of Gianduja  ran pretty much parallel to the development of Milk chocolate a relatively short trek across the Swiss Alps. Unfortunately for the Torinese, milk chocolate went on to conquer the world while Gianduja remained largely a local specialty in Turin.

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However fast track almost a hundred years and in 1946 following world war 2, another severe rationing of chocolate apparently led Albanese pastry chef Pietro Ferrero to produce large batch of chocolate-like “Pasta Gianduja” . Importantly because the major ingredient was locally sourced he was able to make this at a fraction of the cost of chocolate candy and this paste proved both popular and profitable. Over the next few years he refined this to a smooth spread finally launching Nutella as we know it in the early 1960’s.

Since this humble start, Nutella consumption has spread from its Italian home into every corner of the globe to the extent that it is estimated or rather claimed on the internet that the weight of Nutella consumed globally each year roughly equates to the mass of the Empire State Building! Whatever the facts, Ferrero’s success has spawned a whole range of imposters and lookalikes of varying quality.

wheres the bread

However last weekend over Easter when I needed some Nutella I found the cupboard bare and the shops closed. With a little research, I realized that I actually had all the ingredients on hand to make a little batch of something very close to a soft pasta Gianduja, and the result surprised me , it was smooth, rich and dairy free with a much more pronounced toasted nutty character and devoid of the rancidity which often plagues the cheap substitutes mentioned earlier.

The other big plus is that it was quite a bit less sugary and with a tiny hint of salt and some nice cocoa bitterness it even has a slightly savoury edge, and just for the record it made a delicious filing for the Hazelnut and Chocolate Danish Pastries we were trialing for next week’s Vintage Festival Breakfasts at Bethany Wines. Try it yourself, it really is ridiculously simple and equally delicious.

Hazelnut and Cocoa Paste 

120g                                     hazelnuts
1/2  cup                               icing sugar
2 tablespoons                    cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon                       sunflower oil
1/2 teaspoon                      vanilla paste
tiny pinch                          fine salt

Method:

Roast hazelnuts until lightly golden brown, skin blisters and nuts are fragrantly toasty

roasting nutsroasted nuts- skinningready to grind

Rub in a cloth to remove skins and when cool place in a blender and grind very finely

ground nutsblend 20 secondsadd sugar, cocoa, vanilla , oil and saltblend 20 seconds

Add cocoa, icing sugar, vanilla, oil and salt and process until very fine, smooth, glossy and spreadable, its that simple!

 

Keeping Your Cool..

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To say it’s been hot in the Barossa this past week is an understatement. A sweltering heat wave, horrific bushfires through the Adelaide Hills and a full schedule of cooking classes has kept us busy, inside and at home.

To be honest the biggest question for the week has been “what to drink and cool down with?” It’s really even too hot for wine when you hit this kind of heat, but an answer came in the form of our good friend Geoff Schrapel from Bethany Wines when he dropped off some of his home grown white peaches for us to enjoy.

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Geoff it must be said grows some of the best fruit in the Barossa Valley. Hailing from one of the oldest settlements in the Barossa, Bethany was originally laid out as a series of “Hufendorfs”, or strip farms back in the 1840’s. These farmlets had space for some orchards and vegetable gardens, room to raise poultry or pigs and to enable a degree of self sufficiency.

Though limited remnants of these small family farms remain, the tradition of growing and sharing the seasons bounty continues amongst the descendants of these Silesian settlers and of course for their fortunate friends. So with the fragrant perfume of these delicate peaches wafting through our kitchen, the decision what to do other than eat them fresh came fairly easily, especially on a day nudging 42°C.

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The inspiration, an icy cold frappe of white peach sorbet topped up with Sparkling Wine (from Bethany Wines of course!) This is something I’ve served at both Pear Tree Cottage and Appellation in the past and the recipe is truly simplicity itself. What’s more, it doesn’t need any fancy equipment or technique.

frappe 1 frappe3

Most importantly, it was in the freezer in less than half an hour from go to whoa, and a short 3-4 hours later we were enjoying the most refreshing grown up slushy imaginable. More to the point, there’s still plenty in the freezer and more bubbles on ice, time to put the feet up I think…..

Cheers!

 

 

White Peach Sorbet

1                           lemon
160g                    caster sugar
60ml                   water
1 teaspoon         Amaretto
650g                   white peaches – ripe (or enough to yield 500g puree)

Method

    • Using a vegetable peeler cut 4 strips of zest from the lemon making sure you have zest only and no white pith.
    • Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan with the lemon zest and bring to a simmer to dissolve sugar, remove from the heat and allow to cool
    • Squeeze lemon and add juice to the syrup along with the Amaretto – reserve
    • Cut peaches in half, remove stone and if possible peel skin off, blend to a smooth puree, pass through a fine sieve and weigh out 500g puree
    • Add the syrup to the puree and place in a bowl in the freezer compartment of your fridge.
    • Using a whisk, stir every hour until you have a smooth, creamy, sorbet or water ice which can be served as is with fresh fruit or enjoyed on its own

To serve as a frappe, place a good scoop in a tall glass or flute and top up your favourite sparkling beverage, in the photo we’re using Bethany Cuvee Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut but you can dress it up or down as you please with Champagne, Prosecco, Spumante, Cider , or without alchohol with even a mixture of verjuice and mineral water.