Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Glass Half Empty

When I was 11, my parents came back from a trip to Italy with a jar of marbled hazelnut and chocolate spread. Some form of gianduja, ribbons of light cream color and a darker chocolate color waved from inside the jar.

My parents put that jar away on the 'too good to use' shelf. Actually, the shelf had 'too good to use' foods as well as 'too bizarre to use' foods (such as the can of kangaroo soup from my uncle in Australia).

For a couple of months I considered that jar. When no one was around, I pulled the shelf out, looked at the jar, and wondered when my parents would open it. It didn't occur to me to ask them. Finally, one day, I couldn't take it anymore, and I opened the jar. I had just one spoonful. It was heaven--smooth, sweet, nutty, competely satisfying.

The next day I tried another spoonful. And then I realized something. The jar still looked full from the outside. Once I knew that, I was powerless. Each day I took a spoonful, carefully avoiding scraping the sides of the jar. After a couple of weeks, the jar was effectively empty. But it still looked full. This led to the most guilt-laden period of my life. I knew it was only a matter of time before I'd be caught. And how I wanted to start in on the last bit of gianduja clinging to the sides of the jar!

Funny thing, I don't remember what happened. Either it was tremendously anti-climactic (perhaps my parents took pity on me), or completely traumatizing (and is my excuse for any poor behavior in my present life).

The other night, Pavel cleverly mentioned how much he loves chocolate hazelnut spreads to the right person. He was rewarded, and came home from dinner with a jar of Nocciolata, an organic chocolate hazelnut spread. I learned that I'm not the only person to figure out how to demolish a jar and have it still look full--Pavel did the same.

I can't say I was surprised. A few years back the same good friend gave me a 25-lb bucket of marzipan. I was overwhelmed, and let it sit for a few weeks, trying to decide how to put all that marzipan to good use. When I'd finally decided, I went to the closet for the bucket. It was surprisingly light--until I saw how little was left inside, and had to admit its heft matched the scant amount of marzipan remaining. Turned out that while I might have needed time to figure out 'good use' of marzipan, Pavel had no such trouble. He immediately saw that the best use possible involved him, a spoon, and a nightly visit.

Back to gianduja. It's always seemed odd to me that I haven't seen jars of the stuff in Portland. I mean, Oregon is hazelnut country, and we have plenty of chocolate shops (Alma, Cacao, Sahagun). Perhaps I've just been lazy. Note to self: Visit local chocolatiers weekly.

Last week I heard that Sahagun's gianduja (which up until then I thought was only sold inside chocolates) was being spread on toast at Ristretto, a local cafe I like.

At my first bite, I was a little unsure. This gianduja was pale in color, and tasted salty. But as it sat on the warm toast, it started to glisten--it seemed to come alive. And the saltiness? That took me less than a second to come around to. The Sahagun gianduja is an Oregon version--a successful local crunchy adaption. (They make it with organic Oregon hazelnuts, Valrhona milk chocolate, and Fleur de Sel.)


vanessa said...

omg, that looks sooooo delicious!

Jessica said...

Chocolate and hazelnuts are my favorite combo. Sadly Wes is allergic (not severely) to hazelnuts so I rarely bring them home. This looks incredible.

Denise said...

That looks delicious!
(I have *finally* gotten your blog to accept my comments...Google/Blogger refused to allow me to post on here until today. sheesh)

Giovanna said...

Jessica, I'm impressed--if my husband were allergic I'd take it as a sign I should stock up--imagine, a dessert that he wouldn't eat! You're clearly a far better wife...

Vanessa and Denise, it is delicious. And only a 1/2 hour walk from Sock Summit!

Bread and chocolate--what's not to like? In fact, thinking of that, yesterday at the store I picked up a Theo's 'Bread and Chocolate' bar--another delicious thing. Chocolate, bits of crunchy bread, slightly salty...

Nancy Singleton Hachisu said...

Hi Giovanna. Enticing post. I love the image of Pavel sneaking into the closet for a spoonful (or more) of marzipan. Wonderful.

Years ago there was an article in Gourmet about gianduja. I was really irritated that they used chocolate + hazelnuts and nutella..NUTELLA! Gourmet fell from grace in my eyes that day. Hey look, this isn't Bon Appetit for god's sake. Can't we have the real recipe and THEN the substitute?

Because, as it happened, my Valrhona chocolate supplier carried the hard bar shaped gianduja as well as the tub variety. The gianduja cake sounded fabulous, so I ordered up my supplies. By thinking in grams, it became immediately clear the substitution method. Anyway, measuring by cups is silly.

Long story, but look for a Valrhona wholeseller. I wonder where that recipe is? I haven't made it for years.

Anonymous said...

definitely, it was not easy to prepare.
Italian ingredients are not available in every shop.

Giovanna said...

Nancy--I just checked over on the epicurious site, and it looks as if there was an article about gianduia in the February 1998 issue of Gourmet. They list a bunch of recipes, including plain chocolates, cookies, ice cream, and tartlets made with hazelnut butter (they give an Oregon source for that!) as well as brownies and a mousse cake made with nutella.

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