Just Nuts about Hazelnuts…

cropped-Torino-e1367812482559

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.

gianduja2

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!

 

What’s Hiding In The Pantry

serve

While most of my posts celebrate seasonality, just occasionally something comes up that has nothing to do with my obsession that “fresh is best” and this is one such occasion. In fact for more than one reason this will probably give those that know me reasonably well, cause for a good old chuckle. Firstly because, I seem to have garnered a reputation over the years of being somewhat obstinate about accommodating dietary requests, even to one year being presented a “I don’t do dietaries” t-shirt by one of my team (thank you Cassaly) But to be honest I feel a little hard done by, I have always tried to ensure that the people I cook for have plenty of delicious options. For example many of what may have been considered my “Signature” dishes during my restaurants days were Vegan or Vegetarian, we just never made a lot of noise about that. 

dietaries3

In fact I am pretty sure we were well out in front 10 years ago when we started asking guests on booking, if they had any food allergies and intolerances so that we could make sure they had a special dining “experience”. But take my word for it, in recent years the pendulum has swung, and now it is more common for someone to have special requirements than not. In fact trying to balance a menu to allow for the inevitable has become a nightmare, take designing deserts that are gluten, dairy, nut and egg free …. yet we chefs have stuck with trying to make it work for everyone.

But sometimes in the press of a busy service, when someone presented with extreme or downright odd dietaries I may have channeled Gordon Ramsay because:  

A) Some notice would have been nice.

B) There’s only so much that can be done when your docket board is full.

C) Your Mise en Place is well, in place and that’s what you have to work with.

D) The entire team is fully engaged doing the business for all of the other paying guests and cant drop the ball to create that sulphur, fructose and nightshade free, low fibre, low sodium dish of ancient grains and kale because that’s all you can eat…..

 Ok, so maybe I don’t do dietaries!

But why is this relevant? Well today’s recipe is for a Gluten Free Mango, Lime and Coconut Cake, not only is it dietary friendly (if you can eat eggs and nuts that is) but its neither seasonal nor local, but as I hinted above sometimes you have to be able to crank something out from simply what is in the cupboard. You see a good friend was joining us this evening, someone that genuinely can’t tolerate gluten, and we needed a simple dessert to share, and to be honest she has probably had her fill of figs at our place over the last month.

To cut a long story short for many years I have been preparing a gluten free cake based on Claudia Roden’s famous boiled orange and almond cake,  sometimes I substitute a specific quantity of fruit puree for the oranges, but today this recipe was nowhere to be found. However determined to make it work, we set about chopping another recipe apart and well, the result was this delectable little cake, beautiful with our local Jersey cream and dare I say it, ripe figs.

But the genius was we had everything in our pantry and with 15 minutes prep it was in the oven. Seriously it will be my new go too, definitely not as syrupy as my previous recipe, and if I didn’t know it was gluten free, there is no way I would ever be able to pick it.

Gluten Free, Mango, Coconut and Lime Cake

270g Tinned mango cheeks* (drained weight)
1 lime- zest of pinch citric acid
165g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste/extract
3 eggs
100g polenta
100g almond meal
45g desiccated coconut
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Method

Blend mango with lime zest and citric acid to a smooth puree blending mango Whisk eggs with sugar and vanilla paste until very thick and foamy (like shaving foam) , then fold in mango puree sabayon Combine remaining dry ingredients and mix well then fold into mango and egg foam fold dry Fill into a greased spring form pan (20cm/8inch) lined with non stick baking paper for easy removal ready to bake Bake at 170c for 35 minutes or until lightly golden and a skewer comes out clean when inserted cake Allow to cool for 15 minutes before removing from tin, dust with icing sugar and serve with Jersey cream.   Note: *other well drained tinned fruits like apricots and peaches should work well as would frozen or fresh mango cheeks.