Piedmont + Hazelnuts
We’re nuts for Piedmont!
It snowed. The nuttiness has started. How did this happen? We went to bed Friday night after spending the day ‘sock-free’ and with only a jacket and woke the next morning to the annual winter gear scavenger hunt. We confess we’ve got ‘cold feet’ and don’t feel ready for winter. We knew it was coming. It’s the beginning of December and yet here we are at the ‘foot of this mountain’, Canada’s coldest season.
Why are we craving the food and wine of Piedmont? Well it’s a harsh place…literally the ‘foot of the mountain’ and not for the faint of heart. A land of mountains, surrounded on three sides by the Alps, with the highest peaks and the largest glaciers in Italy. This is the place for white truffles, mushrooms, chestnuts, hazelnuts, beef and lamb, big bold wines, and recipes steeped in tradition. The food of this region is deeply and historically connected to this place. Despite being land-locked, Piedmontese cuisine and wine have achieved worldwide renown. I mean, imagine a world without Barolo or a childhood without Nutella.
In a nut shell…
Our inspiration for this post came from a bear’s feast. Confused??
Here it is in a nutshell:
A friend living in southwestern British Columbia brought us some hazelnuts from trees growing on her property.
Not a lot, because her ravenous, unexpected guests took care of most of the crop.
If you go down to the woods today
You’d better not go alone.
It’s lovely down in the woods today
But safer to stay at home.
For ev’ry bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain, because
Today’s the day
The bears harvest their hazelnuts!
Often you only need a gentle nudge or a funny story to reacquaint you with an ingredient which inspires an entire feast.
So yep, we’ve gone nuts for hazelnuts…
Or ‘Filberts’…if you’re the quirky type.
Feeling sophisticated? Allow me to introduce ‘Noisette’.
Feeling a little country? Go for ‘Cob nuts’.
Tall, dark and handsome more your type? ’Nocciolo’ is your go to.
We know, it’s nuts! How could one little nut go by so many different names?
The many faced nut…
Hazelnuts are the nut of the hazel tree, from the species of the genus Corylus, which refers to their resemblance to the Greek korys (helmut). Hazel comes from the Anglo-Saxon haesil, meaning head-dress. When ripe, the nut falls out of its fibrous husk. The kernel of the seed is edible and can be used raw or roasted. In many countries hazelnuts have traditionally been eaten fresh or green, the flavour milky juicy almost sharp tasting to extreme sweetness when fully ripe.
The people of Piedmont know how to put this nut to good use. Their most prized variety, Tonda Gentil delle Langhe, is smaller with a richer flavour and fuller aroma. In the 1940’s, a Pietmontese pastry maker , Pietro Ferrero, (like the Ferrero Rocher in your Christmas stocking) came up with an ingenious way of extending precious chocolate in a time of war rationing.
By combining plentiful local hazelnuts and little bit of cocoa, a dense sliceable loaf was produced and Nutella was born. Thus, a decades long love affair with Nutella began… Today you could circle the globe 1.4 times with the amount of Nutella produced in one year.
Clearly hazelnuts are a huge industry in the region. So when it came to picking the pairings for this post we were torn…So we chose a white, a red and a sweet and a dish for each that featured hazelnuts.
Thinking of the Piedmont region and the wines produced there, our first thoughts are of the powerful, age-worthy Barolo and Barbaresco wines made from the Nebbiolo grape. Barolo is known as Italy’s ‘wine of kings and king of wines’ after all.
However, after a little more digging, we learned those two wines only account for around 3% Piedmont’s production. Further exploration reveals many other noteworthy reds including Barbera, Dolcetto, Bonarda, Vespolina and Brachetto. Though reds do account for more production, many whites including Arneis, Cortese and Moscato also have a historic foothold in the region and account for around 35% of the production.
Arneis + Winter Pesto
If a grape could have a personality, the Arneis grape would be known as the ‘little rascal’. In the local Piedmontese dialect, Arneis, means a difficult or demanding person, which suits this grape well as it is a bit of an underdog. It has been known to be difficult to grow and only the most patient winemaker understands its charms. In this region, Nebbiolo is King! The grape that makes the most prestigious Barolo and Barbaresco is celebrated and the best vineyards sites are devoted to it. By the 1970’s, Arneis was nearly lost. Cultivated in only a few rows within Nebbiolo vineyards because it attracted hungry birds away from the more valued Nebbiolo grapes, Arneis was only bottled by two houses. Luckily for us, production is on the rise.
So what is this grape all about you may ask? Get three wine-loving ladies with a good vocabulary sharing a bottle together and the adjectives start to fly. Light and crisp, floral and fruity, smells like peaches, apricots, apples, pears, white flowers, chamomile, sweet spring blossoms, almonds, wild herbs, lemon grass, preserved lemon, zesty capers, briny and salty. Not bad for an underdog!
With it’s northern Italian origins, pesto seemed to be a natural choice to pair with this grape. Our pesto features toasted hazelnuts, fruity olive oil, salty Pecorino cheese and grassy green herbs; all flavours found in Arneis.
Winter Hazelnut Pesto
2 cups flat leaf parsley
2 cups baby spinach
1 cup toasted skinned hazelnuts
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
zest and juice of a lemon
salt and pepper to taste
- In a food processor combine all the ingredients.
- Pulse to form a rough paste.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Add to your kitchen arsenal and use to top your favourite pasta dish.
- We used 1/2 cup of the pesto to dress the greens in our salad.
Kale persimmon and pomegranate salad
2 Fuyu persimmons, sliced
4 cups arugula
2 cups black kale, rib removed and torn into bite sized pieces
pomegranate seeds from one pomegranate (we know…they are called arils)
1/2 cup each shaved Pecorino Romano and chopped toasted hazelnuts
- Zest the oranges. Reserve it for the gremolata which tops our yummy risotto recipe.
- Remove the skin from the oranges and segment the fruit.
- Toss together the arugula and kale with 1/2 cup of the pesto.
- Arrange on a platter and top with the orange segments and persimmons.
- Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds, shaved Pecorino and chopped hazelnuts.
- Enjoy with a bottle of Arneis!
Risotto al Barolo + Barolo
Risotto al Barolo is what we imagine the farmers, returning chilled to the bone from pruning their vines or hazel trees in the chilly months of November and December, would come home and warm up with. Who could resist a creamy, rich, comforting bowl of risotto, fortified with a bottle of Nebbiolo?
The Nebbiolo grape’s home is Piedmont. ‘Nebbia’ from the Italian for ‘fog’, refers to the fog that descends on the hills of Barolo and Barbaresco every fall, cooling the grape vines with their mist and allowing the grapes to hang longer on the vines and develop more complex flavours and aromas. This great grape can produce some of the most high quality, long lasting wines with fierce tannins and demands the wine drinker have patience. Some bottles of Barolo need decades before they are ready to drink. A beautiful combination of power and elegance, Barolo often reveals fruity aromas of strawberries and dried cherries, with a heady perfume of roses and violets and savoury notes of earthy mushrooms, truffles and often tar.
We know that patience is a virtue and good things come to those who wait. A lovely 2006 Barolo has been collecting dust in our cellar, awaiting the perfect meal. Now one could certainly splurge and use a bottle of Barolo in the namesake Risotto al Barolo, a specialty of the Piedmont region. However, might we suggest a less expensive Nebbiolo from the Langhe region and the same general area, in the recipe. Enjoy that long awaited bottle with the dish. The crisp acidity cuts through all the richness and the earthy, fruity flavours in both the wine and risotto, blend seamlessly.
Of course our hazelnut obsession demands this little nut finds a seat at the Barolo table too. We topped our risotto off with a bright orange hazelnut gremolata. We were not disappointed!
Risotto al Barolo
1/2 cup butter, divided
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups risotto rice (we love Carnaroli)
2 cups Nebbiolo wine
6 to 8 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup pecorino romano
salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the stock in medium saucepan, keep at a low simmer. In a large saucepan, melt 1/4 cup of the butter over low heat. Sweat the onions and garlic until softened. Add the rice, stir a few times to coat the rice in butter. Increase heat to medium high, sizzle in the wine, stirring constantly. Cook until the wine is very reduced and barely coats the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to low.
- Begin adding the stock a ladle full at a time, stirring with each addition. Wait until the liquid has been absorbed before adding another ladle full. Continue cooking and stirring (yep, you’re stuck there stirring..don’t leave the pot or you may have some scorched rice on your hands) until all but one cup of the broth has been used.
- Remove the pot from heat and add the last cup of broth but don’t stir it in. Add the reserved butter and pecorino. Put a lid on it and set aside to rest (you and the rice!) for 5 minutes.
- Stir the rested rice to combine, it should be good and creamy in texture. The rice should be tender with just a slight firmness to the bite.
- Pour the risotto into a warmed serving platter. Top with gremolata and additional shaved Pecorino
- Devour immediately!
Orange Hazelnut Gremolata
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
zest of an orange (reserved from the salad…..remember?)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped
- In a mortar and pestle, combine the parsley, orange zest and garlic. Pound and grind the mixture a few times to start to break down any big chunks.
- Slowly stream in the oil, grinding and stirring as you go to make a rough paste.
- Add the hazelnuts, stir a little more to break them up.
- Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Hazelnut Roulade with Hazelnut Liqueur
No hazelnut feast would be complete without something sweet. In ancient Roman times, it was a custom to give hazel plants to bring happiness. This cake certainly brought much happiness to our table.
Piedmontese hazelnuts factor in this show stopping cake twice. We couldn’t help it!
Our light hazelnut sponge cake is smeared with Nutella then slathered with Nutella whipped cream before its rolled up jelly roll style to resemble a log. A fitting tribute to the origins of the chocolate hazelnut treat. Did you know in Italy Nutella became so popular that many Italian shops would offer children who came in with a slice of bread a free smear of Nutella to put on it. The phenomenon was referred to as ‘the smearing’. We prefer ‘delicious’!
The double whammy hazelnut hit on our cake comes in the form of a generous drizzle of hazelnut liqueur. Now you’re all welcome to reach for the Frangelico. Classic and widely available. However, if you love hazelnuts and are looking for a good excuse to indulge yourself, seek out a bottle of Fratello Hazelnut Liqueur. This beauty is produced by the Francoli Distillery in Piedmont….hmmm I sense a theme. The hazelnuts are from PIedmont, toasted and soaked in a solution of alcohol and water to create a sort of hazelnut infusion. The infusion is distilled with an addition of cocoa, vanilla and elderflowers. Finally it is sweetened by acacia honey which is produced by bees from the Francoli family vineyards. Can you get more local than that?
When we first tasted this smooth, sweet liqueur it brought to mind flavours of roasted nuts, buttered popcorn, caramel, chocolate, honey, butterscotch, Werther’s caramels and butterscotch Life Savers. We doused our cake with a bit and saved the rest to sip alongside.
Happily there is still some left which we intend to enjoy over ice cream with a shot of espresso (think affogato).
1 3/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
9 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
pinch of salt
1/4 cup icing sugar for dusting the cake
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Line a 13 X 18 inch baking sheet with parchment paper (be sure to choose one with sides).
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
- Using a food processor, finely grind the toasted hazelnuts.
- In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks for 1 minute. Slowly add the sugar. Once incorporated, beat an additional 2 minutes until the mixture is thick and creamy. Fold in the vanilla bean paste followed by the ground hazelnuts and the flour mixture.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with 1/2 tsp cream of tartar and a pinch of salt until foamy. Increase speed and beat on high until the whites form stiff peaks, about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Fold the beaten egg whites into the yolk/hazelnut mixture in 3 separate additions taking care not to deflate the egg whites. You still want to see some streaks of the beaten egg whites in the batter.
- Spread the batter onto the prepared baking sheet. Make sure the cake is smooth and even.
- Bake until just set, about 18 minutes. Allow to cool.
- Once cool, sift icing sugar over the entire surface and place a clean kitchen towel over top.
Working quickly, flip the entire baking sheet with cake inverting it onto the towel. Carefully remove the parchment paper and roll the cake like a jelly roll, using the towel to help.
for the filling:
3 cups whipping cream
2 cups Nutella, divided
1/4 cup hazelnut liqueur (we used Fratello)
cocoa for dusting
candied hazelnuts (recipe follows)
- Whip cream until soft peaks have formed.
- Fold 1 cup of Nutella into the whipped cream. Mix until just incorporated, you still want to see some streaks.
- Unroll the hazelnut roulade and spread with the remaining 1 cup of Nutella.
- Top with about a cup of the Nutella whipped cream.
- Carefully roll the roulade like a jelly roll (using the kitchen towel you had wrapped it in helps).
- Transfer the cake to your serving platter.
- Drizzle the rolled cake with the hazelnut liqueur.
- Using the remaining Nutella whipped cream, ice the roulade.
- Lightly dust the surface with cocoa.
- Crumble the candied hazelnuts over the top.
For the candied hazelnuts:
Heat 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan over high heat, swirling, until sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer, and cook, swirling occasionally, until medium amber, about 4 minutes. Add 2 cups toasted skinned hazelnuts and stir for 1 minute to coat.
Pour mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and immediately separate nuts using 2 forks so that each stands alone on sheet. Let cool. Break apart.
Cordero di Montezemolo Arneis 2015
The families origins in PIedmont go back to the 1400’s.
Since then 19 generations, one after another, have managed the Monfalletto property in the town of La Morra which is the center of Barolo production.
As they are at the very heart of the Langhe region, they also produce Barolo, Langhe Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto and Grappa.
Azelia di Luigi Scavino Barolo 2006
Azelia is in the centre of the area of Barolo production and is run by Luigi Scavino and his son Lorenzo who represent the fifth generation of the Scavino family
The estate is composed of 16 hectares and produces about 80,000 bottles per year.
Fruit for the Barolo comes from 6 different sites with an average of 40 years.
The 2006 is still a young wine.
Like a good friend…we are just trying to push you outside of your comfort zone.
Live a little and expand your palate.
Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers
After 10 years as a restaurateur, culinary instructor and caterer, a trip to France sparked an untapped enthusiasm for all things wine. I gave up the restaurant life, made a huge u-turn and dove head first into the vast world of wine. I have never looked back and achieved my Sommelier certification with the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers in 2015. I love sharing my pursuit of the perfect pairing in a fun, unfussy and ultimately delicious way with my friends, family and those I teach.
Red Seal Chef, Culinary Instructor
I graduated from the Stratford Chefs School in 1999 and achieved Red Seal Certification shortly thereafter. With this strong foundation laid, an opportunity to spend time in California presented itself. While there, I was intoxicated by the seasonality and quality of the ingredients everywhere I looked. This experience proved to be a turning point for me in how I thought about food. It inspired me to have a deep and enduring respect for the people, food and culture that go into the perfect dish.