Prior to my Italian departure, my brain was under the assumption my staple foods existed in wide availability. Hello… it’s Italy, the all-around Gods of the food universe must have everything. (Insert “wrong” game show sound) Wrong. Much to my chagrin, I was unpleasantly surprised to discover Italians do not eat peanut butter. Or almond butter. Or any other nut butter, really. When my Italian mama, Maura, asked me what I wanted to eat for colazione on the daily, I replied with my favorite (ahem, necessity) breakfast “…oh, just oatmeal, maybe some peanut butter, bananas”. But she didn’t know what oatmeal was. So, I busted out my iPad and Google-imaged it (something that would soon become a daily occurrence) and we searched through her copies of La Cucina Italiana to find out. “Ah! Avena. Well, that’s for babies.” Okay. Well, how about peanut butter? “Haha, Americana! No peanut butter in Italia!” Okay. (I was determined to find it and we finally did at the 34534583945th Supermercato, but it was not normal peanut butter.) My reliance on my old breakfast was officially flushed down the toilet like a sad, dead goldfish.
But. Little did I know that Maura made something that is also known as the spread of glory, a high esteem previously held firm by the universally loved Nutella. As we woke up one morning early on, Maura said, “Today! We make the hazelnut cream!” Hazelnut cream, I asked, like Nutella? “No, non e Nutella!” Alright, I have no idea what to expect but let’s go head-first into this anyways.
She revealed a tub of pure hazelnut paste, something that can be store bought or made by processing hazelnuts in a food processor, and poured it into a gargantuan container. Then, she took out an equal sized tub of light honey, acacia, also harvested on her farm from her own bees, and told me to grab a large spoon and stir as she poured. It was the consistency of tar, and as I stirred I realized I was entering a little village called thick city. She saw my face, “Forte! Forte!” so I stirred more and more and more, more vigorously with each turn, like a little crazed witch with her cauldron, putting all my force into conjuring up what would soon hurl Nutella and even (gasp!) peanut butter off of their thrones.
“Brava! Brava!” said Maura, as I finally finished and we reached a uniform consistency. Now, she told me to try it. Well okay, twist my arm. As the spoon reached my mouth, my expectations were non-existent. But as I experienced this, it was like my taste buds left earth, zoomed along the milky way and into other unknown galaxies and shooting stars. I looked at her and she laughed at my always obvious expression. My eyes almost gouged out of their sockets and fell to the floor. “Pero e buuuuuuuuuuooooniiiiiiissssimooooooooo!” I told her. I think she knew that already. It’s the star of her table at the farmers markets they sell at.
After that, I had no qualms about peanut butter’s absence because this swiftly took its place. Imagine that Nutella kicked out chocolate and replaced it with pure honey. It’s smoother and more moist. I ate it for breakfast for the majority of my days there, by itself or slathered on whatever fruit the gardens proudly boasted that particular day, not that they needed anything at all. It was also eaten on a spoon, on my finger, on toast, on chocolate bars, on cookies, on hazelnut cake for hazelnut overload, made into ice cream. But I would have eaten it off my farm sneakers, it’s that good. This needs nothing except to be placed into your mouth and tasted. And the best part is, it only has two ingredients and is made in seconds. I brought jars back with me to the USA and I’m hoarding them like a selfish five year old, savoring every last bite before I need to make an international phone call and package request.
It’ll make you forget your American staple. Well, at least for the meantime. For now, it can hold a comfortable seat next to it.
Hazelnut & honey spread
Adapted from Maura Fourneris
Makes 2 cups
Notes: Hazelnut paste, which is essentially just hazelnuts ground very, very finely, can be bought at specialty markets. But lucky for us that it’s incredibly easy to make as well. Place hazelnuts in a food processor and process them until they reach your desired paste-like consistency. Note that the store bought variety will be a bit smoother but that’s not a problem.
Since this recipe is so easy and straightforward, feel free to make it with whatever equal amounts of honey and hazelnuts you have on hand.
If you jar this, it can last almost indefinitely (you’ll eat it before then, though) because honey acts as a preservative.
One cup hazelnut paste (made from about 2 cups toasted hazelnuts)
One cup honey
In a large bowl, place the hazelnut paste. Pour in the honey, little by little, as you stir vigorously with a wooden spoon.
Alternatively, mix the hazelnut paste with the honey in a food processor. Place into jars or eat immediately.
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