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.


  • 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.


  • 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.

Want to learn how to make bread and bone marrow gnocchi this Sunday?

...then join me at 18 Reasons to learn how and why Italians never waste old bread. The class, part of a 3-Sunday series called L'ingegno in cucina-The delicious economy of Italian home cooking will run from 5 to 8:30pm and will be, as always, a very hands-on workshop of intense deliciousness ending in a communal dinner. You can sigFocaccia pane vecchio e pomodorin up here for just one class or for the whole series, whose upcoming themes are risotto and frittata, two of the other crafty ways Italian use leftovers in their cooking.

Other items on the menu are focaccia di pane-in the picture on the left, pappa col pomodoro-a Tuscan bread and tomato soup and, of course, my mom's perfect panzanella, all about which you can read in my Mothers' Day blog post.

I hope to see you there! In the meantime, stay tuned for news on my adventures in Baci Perugina recipes development.

Cooking in Italy: chocolate, coffee, cherry liquor and a bit of history

Sorry for the silence, last week was the annual "settimana della zia Viola"-aunt Viola's week-an event cherished by my child and his cousins when I, the least strict of the adults in my family, oversee anywhere between 4 and 8 children between the ages of 5 and 13 and let them get away with all sorts of mischief they could never pull on their parents...I came out relatively unscathed, though exhausted and determined to take the time off to reconnect with my blog. Back in the spring, I was tapped by the Perugina Chocolates distributors in the US for a possible role in their marketing program, more on that when the time comes.

Until then, I want to tell about the amazing day to which I was treated at the Casa del Cioccolato in the Perugina plant in my very hometown of Perugia. I was welcome by Ilaria Alberghi and Elisa Baronessa, who after a long delightful chat, took me for a private very detailed tour of the museum and the Archivio Storico Buitoni Perugina also hosted in the same space.

Yes, Buitoni Perugina, and if you suspect an affiliation, you are correct. Though ownership of the company no longer lies with my family since 1985, I am a direct descendant of those who founded and grew Buitoni first and then Perugina in the valleys of central Italy.

Perugina is born in 1907 in the Umbrian city of Perugia where my great-grandfather Francesco oversees one of his family's pasta plants. He's approached by the formidable Luisa Spagnoli, the owner of a small confectionery business. Luisa has creative talent in spades but no money to expand. A group of 6 investors, including nonno Checco-as I've always heard of him-back Luisa's dream.

Perugina struggles in the first few years, until nonno Checco decides to turn to his most promising son for help. Giovanni Buitoni is a dashing man of barely 20, with a unique vision and uncanny powers of persuasion. He understands that chocolate must become an everyday treat rather than the upper crust luxury it's been so far.

He quickly lands a contract with the armed forces as the country is gearing up for WWI. He turns to the untapped southern Italian market, considered too poor by luxury goods seller. For quality and portion control and easier distribution, he starts boxing products and, in between the 2 wars, with the birth of Baci in 1922, he also taps into the sexiness of chocolate.


He understands first hand the romantic aspect of it all since, in the meantime, he has fallen in love with none other than Luisa who's almost 15 years his senior and the mother of a close friend. Legend has it that the love notes in Baci were how they carried on their tryst.

Their love, a story that still fascinates the scores of people who walk through the Museo del Cioccolato's doors daily, lasts until Luisa's premature death in 1935. Zio Giovanni, whom I met in childhood, dies in 1979. Once a year, I still see his charming, smiley face, next to those of my father's and my grandparents', as they all rest in a family chapel in the charming hill town from which my great-grandmother came, Paciano.


By the time of his demise, zio Giovanni had spent a good deal of his life in the United States, where he expanded the family's interest with Buitoni Foods and Perugina Chocolates and Confections. Six years after his death, under the helm of the fifth generation, that of my own father, the family sold their interest in the company. I was already 19 at the time.

Today, Perugina is still a maker of high quality chocolates and confections, of which the timeless Bacio is the best known. The production of all such goodness still happens at the plant that my grandfather Bruno built in the 60's. Though I knew the gist of the story, the tour added many details to complete the picture and I really enjoyed seeing the amount of dedication and enthusiasm the work started by my ancestors still engenders.

The day only got better when I stepped into Perugina's world famous Scuola del Cioccolato for some private instructing by Massimiliano Guidubaldi, one of the school's 3 chocolate masters. Massimo focused on quality chocolate work in a home setting.

We spent the afternoon tempering, molding, having espresso, filling, glazing, having another espresso, chatting about the never ending possibilities of chocolate work. After we had more espresso, we spoke of the advantages and meaning of percentages and what suits different tasks best. I was shown the proper tools needed for good home chocolate work. I also learned about cocoa seed purveying, the production and life cycle of chocolate and why even white chocolate can claim a righteous spot if you treat it right, like in this new version of Baci.


We made dark shiny dark chocolate shells filled with white chocolate ganache and, finally, much to my glee, and in between an espresso and the next, we made Baci, something I look forward to bringing to my classes.

When I gently turned down one more espresso, Massimo offered me a shot of Luxardo, a sherry like liqueur made with marasche, a type of sour cherry. Luxardo is employed in one of Perugina's other legendary products, chocolate covered cherries.


The Scuola del Cioccolato offers weekend courses open to the public for groups no larger than 20. They also welcome groups for both private and corporate parties. The maestri del cioccolato teach sure fire, simple methods geared to the home cook, which, with practice, can yield amazing, consistent results. Click here for more information about the school, teachers and how to sign up for the courses.

You'll have to read me next week for more recipes of all sorts of delicious foods I'm eating and cooking in my travels, but to make Baci, the Perugina way, join me in my classes. By the way, I will be posting details on my schedule for the new season soon, so stay tuned.