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Pasta with Sage and Chocolate
Most of us think of chocolate as something just for dessert, but the Italians have been adding chocolate to pasta, risotto, polenta and meat dishes for centuries.
"Chocolate, the 'food of the gods,' conquered not just the candy shop, but also the kitchen" says Riccardo Magni of ICAM, one of Italy's premier chocolate makers, based in the city of Lecco in the northern region of Lombardy.
This is not so surprising if you reflect that the cacao bean, from which chocolate is made, is not itself sweet. Or, as G.B. Mantelli, marketing director at Venchi, an artisanal chocolate company based in Turin, puts it, "Like so many other seeds -- pepper, fennel, cardamom and caraway -- cacao beans are a spice."
Italian chefs noted this fact back in the 1500s when cacao beans first arrived from the New World. They immediately began experimenting with chocolate, adding it to many savory dishes.
"It's only the addition of sugar that makes chocolate sweet. Fine dark chocolate, like fine wine, has an amazingly complex taste profile, with hundreds of distinct nuanced aromas and flavors," continues Mr. Mantelli. "Chocolate is, or should be, in everyone's spice rack."
Among the most classic and simplest uses of chocolate in savory food is as a topping to certain pasta dishes. One simple recipe is to toss cooked pasta with ground walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese and top it with grated dark chocolate. Chocolate is also incorporated into fillings for ravioli, such as the Italian fall favorite pumpkin-chocolate ravioli served with a brown butter sage sauce.
Even pasta itself can be made with chocolate.
It's delicious served with meat or cheese sauces. "Most recipes say to mix the flour and cacao powder together at the start," explains Alessandra Bertucci, the third-generation owner of Pastificio Piemontese, an award-winning artisan pasta maker in Alessandria, Italy. "But we add the cacao powder later, after the dough has already gone through the pasta machine once or twice." This technique not only makes it much easier for the dough to hold together, but also yields a more tender, flavorful pasta.
"Chocolate adds a lovely toasted flavor and a delicious aroma as well as infusing a dish with a silky finish," notes Riccardo Ferrero, executive chef at Turin's historic
Chocolate adds an accent to many of Del Cambio's savory dishes, including some that have been on their menu for over 100 years. One of the most popular is vitello brasato -- braised veal -- which is cooked in a sauce of Barolo wine finished with chocolate and served with polenta. Chef Ferrero also bakes delicious chocolate bread that he serves both in the restaurant's breadbasket and with a selection of cheeses.
One of Italy's popular savory chocolate creations is agrodolce, "sour and sweet" sauce for pork or wild game, made from reduced vinegar or wine seasoned with dark chocolate.
"In Tuscany, chocolate is a key ingredient with venison and wild boar," notes Remo Vannini, executive chef of Florence's L'Incontro at Hotel Savoy. "Like wine, vinegar or lemon juice, chocolate provides just the right touch of acidity. We Italians add a hint of chocolate to many sauces. Chocolate acts not only as an emulsifier, adding natural thickness to sauces, but also enhances the other flavors. It is wonderful with game meats, but lovely too with chicken and beef."
Fabio Picchi, owner and chef of Florence's famed Cibreo restaurant, fondly recalls enjoying savory chocolate dishes as a child in Florence: "Cooking with chocolate has a long history here in Tuscany. My grandmother always cooked savory chocolate dishes on Sundays during the winter." Chef Picchi serves an updated version of his grandmother's "chocolate rabbit" at Cibreo, a delicate stew seasoned with hints of candied orange peel.
Picchi waxes poetic on the subject of cooking with chocolate: "Chocolate's flavors persists for hours; its one of the only foods with such lingering after-taste. Besides its spectacular flavors, chocolate also has emotional resonance. Chocolate for dinner? Yes! It's every child's dream, a dream we Italians have made come true for centuries!"
How to Cook with Chocolate
--Sprinkle cocoa nibs on polenta, rice, stuffing or baked potatoes. Add them to salads and soups for crunch, texture and nutty flavor.
--Add a square or two of semi-sweet or dark chocolate to meat dishes, such as beef stew, chili, BBQ or pasta meat sauce, for an unexpected rich deep taste.
--Add cocoa powder to your favorite bread recipe. Unsweetened chocolate bread is great with cheese.
--White chocolate, which is made with cocoa butter, is delicious with seafood or cheese. Add a little to macaroni and cheese or cream soups, or melt it over baked fish.
Pasta with Sage and Chocolate
Chocolate adds an unexpected rich, deep flavor to this simple pasta sauce. This Pasta with Sage and Chocolate Recipe is courtesy of G.B. Martelli of the chocolatier Venchi S.p.A.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Yield: Serves 6
Pasta with Sage and Chocolate Recipe Ingredients
1 pound spaghetti or fettuccine
8 tablespoons butter, 1 stick
4 shallots, finely minced
20 fresh sage leaves, plus more as garnish
Freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1-2 ounces Venchi Chocaviar bits, or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely grated
Pasta with Sage and Chocolate Recipe Directions
Prepare the pasta according to package directions.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and saute the shallots and sage leaves, about 8 minutes, until the butter is golden brown.
Toss the pasta with the sage-shallot butter and about a 1/4 cup of the pasta's cooking water.
Season to taste with pepper.
Serve topped with the Parmesan cheese and a generous sprinkling of Chocaviar or grated chocolate. Garnish with sage leaves.
Roasted Parsnip & White Chocolate Soup
This is an amazingly delicious soup with just the perfect hint of white chocolate sweetness -- a wonderful autumn treat. Recipe is courtesy of ICAM S.p.A.
2 pounds parsnips (about 4 or 5 large parsnips)
1/4 cup extra virgin oil
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
2 large Vidalia onions, thinly sliced
2 quarts chicken stock
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Salt and pepper
1 cup white chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill leaves
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Peel and cut the parsnips into 1-inch slices, put on a baking sheet, and brush them lightly with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Roast the parsnips until they begin to soften, about 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium-low heat in a large stockpot and gently saute the onion until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, vanilla and roasted parsnips, and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper, cover and let cook until the parsnips are very soft, about 20 minutes.
Stir the white chocolate into the soup and cook until melted, about 5 minutes.
Remove soup from the heat and stir in the cream. Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth. Add the limejuice.
Garnish with fresh dill.
Risotto with Apricots and White Chocolate
Apricots add a lovely tart tang to this velvety white chocolate accented risotto. It's a wonderfully festive, beautiful first-course dish. Recipe is courtesy of ICAM.
5 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups Arborio rice, about 12 ounces
4 tablespoons cocoa butter (available online or in health food stores) or butter
3 to 4 dried apricots, very finely minced
4 strands saffron, optional
4 ounces white chocolate, preferably ICAM
1/3 cup heavy cream
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the cocoa powder with 4 cups of water and bring to a low boil.
In a medium saucepan combine the rice and butter, and heat over medium flame until the rice is slightly toasted, about 6 minutes.
Add 1 cup of the hot cocoa water and stir until the water is absorbed. Add more, a little at a time, until the rice is tender, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, simmer the apricots, saffron (if using), white chocolate and cream until warm. Cover and reserve.
Remove the rice from the heat and stir in the white chocolate mixture. The rice should be fairly loose, almost like thick soup.
Season to taste with salt. Serve immediately.
The trick is making chocolate pasta is to add the cocoa powder after the pasta dough is formed. It will not only be easier to work with but will taste better! Serve the pasta with a simple sauce of finely ground walnuts and butter, or with Gorgonzola cheese thinned with milk, or with your favorite meat sauce. Recipe is courtesy of Alessandra Bertucci, Pastificio Piemontese
Makes 1 pound
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
4 large eggs
1/4 cup cocoa powder
Mound the flour into a large bowl. Make a deep well in the center of the mound and add 3 whole eggs and 1 yolk into it. Beat the eggs with a fork, and then mix them into the flour. Work the egg and flour mixture together with your hands, adding a teaspoon of water at a time to hold the dough together. Add more flour, if needed.
Knead the dough, about 10 minutes, until it feels silky. Then, working in sections, pass it through your pasta maker, following manufacturers instructions. After you have passed it through once, begin to sprinkle the cocoa powder onto the pasta sheet and pass pasta through the machine again. Repeat until all the cocoa powder is fully incorporated and the pasta dough a uniform color.
Cut the pasta into the desired shape and toss with flour to keep it from sticking.
Crostini with Gorgonzola, Pears and Chocolate
Gorgonzola's sharp tang is perfectly mellowed by the chocolate in this simple, elegant and unusual Italian appetizer. Recipe is courtesy of Venchi.
4 ounces dark chocolate
8 slices of crusty bread, toasted
6 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, room temperature
2 ripe pears, cored and thinly sliced
Hazelnuts, toasted and crushed
Just before ready to serve, melt the 4 ounces of chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler. Reserve.
To assemble: Spread the Gorgonzola on each piece of bread and top with a few slices of pear and a pinch of white pepper. Drizzle the chocolate over the top and garnish with a few bits of crushed hazelnuts.
Chocolate Balsamic Vinaigrette
This dressing tastes as if it were made with super-expensive aged balsamic. The chocolate nicely mellows the tang and acidity of the vinegar. It's wonderful on all sorts of salad greens or steamed vegetables. It's also great as a glaze on roast chicken. Recipe is courtesy of ICAM
Makes 1 cup of dressing
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 ounce dark chocolate (63-85 percent cocoa solids)
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
Combine the vinegar and chocolate in a small saucepan, and heat over very low flame until the chocolate is melted and the vinegar reduced, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
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