Italian Cultural Institute

Truffles and chocolates

When I asked Ernesto what would he wanted for breakfast Saturday of last week, he answered: "Spaghetti al tartufo, mamma-Spaghetti with truffle, mommie". And yes, he was serious. Tartufi marzolini

The first week in March, both Ernesto's current school, Miraloma Elementary, and his former pre-school, La Scuola Internazionale di San Francisco, hold their yearly auctions and every year, my truffle guy ships a generous in-kind donation straight from Italy to contribute to the success of the events.

As he's a stickler for quality, Piero Cipriani always puts in a sample for Ernesto and me to test. This year, we were blessed with 300 grams of bianchetti or marzolini, white spring truffles bursting with uncomplicated earthy flavors that I find best brought out by the subtle addition of anchovies.

By the way, Piero will ship directly from Italy truffles that are dug by cousins of his. Should you be interested, I would be happy to put you in touch with him.

 

On the chocolate front, I have been putting my training at Perugina's Scuola del Cioccolato to good use...

Baci e Cioccolato 1On Valentine's Day, 50 people at San Francisco's Italian Cultural Institute learned how to say "I love you" the Italian way by making and eating Baci Perugina. We all had a blast and went home happily covered in chocolate.

Over the next 2 month, at La Scuola di Eataly in Chicago on Saturday 4/5 and in New York, on Saturday 4/12 and 5/10, during 3 classes on Baci, I will make them, chat about their history, use them as ingredients in two of my original creations, chat about how my family shaped Perugina from a high end confectionery shop in the heart of my hometown into the world wide brand it is today, and share memories of growing up under this delectable legacy.

I have worshiped at the altar of anything associated with Lidia Bastianich since my first risotto at her NYC's legendary Felidia Ristorante in the mid 80's, so I am thrilled beyond what words can express at the thought of teaching at Eataly, a place I consider the ode to all I hold sacred in my chosen field.

Click on my event calendar for details on registering for the Perugina chocolate workshops. I hope to see some of you there and, if you are reading from Chicago or New York, spread the word.

Spaghetti con salsa di tartufi bianchetti Spaghetti with March white truffles (aka: Ernesto's favorite breakfast)Spaghetti ai marzolini

for 6 people: 100 grams March white truffles 5 olive oil packed anchovies fillets 1 to 2 teaspoons green garlic (or 1/2 clove regular garlic) olive oil salt to taste black pepper to taste 1 pound bag of spaghetti 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (optional)

Clean the truffles as follows: loosen the dirt with a new nail brush. Finish removing the dirt under running water while scrubbing each truffle with the brush. Dry well with a paper towel. Note that this needs to be a very quick operation, the truffles shouldn't be in the water flow for more than a couple of minutes.

Keep the smallest truffle (or a piece of truffle) whole and place the rest in the bowl of a food processor with the anchovies and green garlic.

Adding the olive oil in a stream, grind into a loose paste. Add black pepper to taste, and salt if necessary, though the sauce should be salty enough from the anchovies.

Place the truffle sauce in a warm, shallow serving bowls.

Cook the spaghetti very al dente in boiling, well salted water. If using, chop the pine nuts roughly.

Fish the spaghetti out of the water with tongs and transfer them into the bowl with the truffle sauce and toss well to coat thoroughly with the truffle sauce.

If they appear a little too dry, add a few spoonfuls of pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce.

Shave the reserved truffle on top and serve immediately as it is or dusted with the pine nuts.

NOTE:

  • I find that truffles are best kept well wrapped in a paper towel then placed in an airtight container.
  • Keep the dirt on them until you are ready to use them, it helps preserve them longer.
  • I have eaten well kept truffles up until after 2+ weeks of having received them from Piero and they were still delicious, though they had lost a bit of fragrance and the texture was a little softer.
  • Should you wish to freeze them, clean them as outlined above then wrap them in paper towel and aluminum place them in an airtight container and freeze them.
  • Better to use them frozen, without defrosting.
  • Note that frozen truffles are better used in sauces rather than shaved.

Food to make one happy: brownies with Baci

Forgive me for patting myself on the back, but my heartfelt pasta work did get a mention in 7x7 magazine a while back, at the reliable hands of TableHopper Marcia Gagliardi. If you don't know her work, do visit her site, it's strong, happy and robust, all adjectives that coincidentally define the meaning of her Italian last name. Anyway, all pasta aside, we are here today to address my other favorite food topic: chocolate. Do you remember me speaking of a budding synergy with Perugina Chocolates and my visit to their Casa del Cioccolato in Perugia this past summer? Those buds are flowering now, as we get closer to the winter holidays, also known as the time of the year where chocolate becomes a staple in my diet.

These past few months I have re-discovered Perugina Baci, as the bliss inducing candy in a bowl prominently in the middle of my new designer table, as the peace offering I hand my husband after we've uselessly gotten on each other about something neither of us remembers, as the memory of my mother when my own child hands me the bottom half after eating the whole hazelnut off the top. But, most of all, I have come to love Baci as the shining jar in my pantry filled with an ingredient to lift the limits of my baking repertoire to new heights.

I will be incorporating Baci based desserts in my classes and also teach those who want to learn how to produce a home made version of this candy. I will list those classes in my calendar, including the one I am planning for Valentine's Day at the Italian Cultural Institute in San Francisco. Until then, let me share this OMG version of brownies featuring Baci, which I reworked from a brownie recipe Jodi Liano of SF Cooking School was generous enough to share with me.

Just an alert: if calorie counting is your thing, this is NOT the recipe for you, but if you are into blissful eating with moderation, then this easy to make treats will dance on your taste buds.

Brownies al Bacio Baci browniesBrownies al Bacio I

for a 7x7” square mold: 15 Baci 3/4 cup flour 1 cup cocoa powder pinch of salt 3 sticks butter 3 eggs 3/4 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract powdered sugar

Unwrap the Baci and finely chop them in a food processor-making sure to read every single love note!

Sift the flour and cocoa together and add the salt.

Cut the butter in tablespoon size pieces and divide it in 2 ceramic bowls. Melt half the butter in the microwave and pour it over the other half. Stir to melt everything. Aim for a creamy looking butter, with a few white specks and at room temperature.

Combine the eggs and sugar and fluff on high in the mixer with a paddle attachment until they are pale yellow and have thickened considerably. Stir in the vanilla.

Change the speed to low and alternately add a bit of melted butter and some flour and cocoa mixture until it is all worked in. It should take about 3 to 4 goes. Mix in the chopped Baci.

Preheat the oven at 350˚F. Line the mold with parchment paper, leaving a bit overhanging so that you can easily extract the brownies.

Bake for 30 minutes and let slightly cool in the pan. Pull out by the edges of the parchment paper and finish cooling on a rack.

When ready to serve, cut in squares and dust with powdered sugar.

NOTES:

  • The brownies will feel barely settled at 30 minutes, but they will be ready, do not be fooled in cooking them longer or they will become too dry.