I must admit, I had a difficult time choosing which Italian Easter dish I wanted to write about for this edition of Cucina Conversations. Initially, I thought about preparing one of the ricotta-based specialties typical of this time of year, such as Sardinian pardulas or a Neapolitan pastiera. Then, there are all those delightful breads with whole eggs enveloped inside them such as savoury casatiello or sweet pane di pasqua. I also toyed with the idea of making a lamb-based main like abbacchio alla romana, spring lamb long being an important symbol of renewal and rebirth in this incredibly rich period of symbolic foods.
It was while rereading one of my favourite books on Piedmontese cuisine, Giovanni Goria’s La cucina del Piemonte collinare e vignaiolo, however, that I was reminded of a recipe I’ve long loved making and eating at this time of year: salame del papa. Literally meaning ‘the Pope’s salami’, an allusion to the local saying stare come un papa or ‘live like a pope’, this rich, chocolate and hazelnut dessert more than lives up to its namesake. Truly, one or two slices per serving will suffice! And, of course, there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of slicing this decadent treat in the same manner as its savoury counterpart; the roughly ground hazelnuts and crumbled biscuits speckling its interior really do resemble the fat inside a real salami!
It’s generally thought that this Piedmontese specialty originated in the city of Alessandria. Local private chef and author of La tavola del Piemonte di ieri e di oggi Damiano Gasparetto believes that it may have begun as a Lenten treat, made to satisfy the palates of well-to-do restaurant patrons looking for a way around the Church’s prohibition against meat consumption during this period. It may also explain why this dessert took on the form of a salami, symbolic of the fleshy, fatty larder that was exhausted during Carnival.
These days in Piedmont, this chocolatey salami is generally served on Pasquetta or Easter Monday, a day locals traditionally take to the outdoors, often for a picnic to finish the leftovers from the day before. After a long and cold winter, Easter nearly always brings some much-needed mild, sunny weather and there’s simply nothing quite like a slice or two of this treat to conclude a lunch in the woods, mountains or countryside, surrounded by blossoming trees, flowers and fragrant wild herbs.
Making this salami is incredibly easy, with no cooking required. In fact, it’s so simple, that I’ve chosen it as a cooking project on several occasions for some of the children – ranging from ages 3 to 11 – I’ve taught over the years. And I’ve looked on amazed at how well they’ve brought eggs, sugar, butter, cocoa, ground hazelnuts and crumbled biscuits together, as well as rolling the resulting dark, sticky mass until obtaining a salami-like log. The final step was running excitedly in search of the nearest fridge to leave their logs to set overnight. So, if you’re tired after the Easter Sunday marathon of cooking and eating, may I suggest you get your children involved in preparing this decadent treat for the next day’s picnic!
Ingredients (makes about 20 slices)
- 3 egg yolks, room temperature
- 80-100 g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
- 100 g diced butter, room temperature
- 100 g unsweetened siftened cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
- 100 g toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
- 200 g crunchy biscuits (Novellini, Gentilini etc), crumbled into small pieces
- 1 shot rhum (optional)
Beat egg yolks and sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the butter and continue beating until obtaining a creamy paste. Add the sifted cocoa, roughly chopped hazelnuts and crumbled biscuits and mix until well combined. If using, pour a shot of rhum into the bowl and bring the sticky mass together with a pair of cocoa-dusted hands.
Transfer mass onto a large piece of greaseproof paper and roll into a log 20 cm long and about 5 cm wide. Wrap the greaseproof paper tightly around the log, twisting the ends like lolly wrappers, then chill in fridge overnight.
To serve, remove greaseproof paper, dust with icing sugar and slice into pieces with a sharp knife. Serve as an afternoon snack or merenda or as a dessert to conclude a long and lazy meal, accompanied by a cup of coffee, a glass of Moscato d’Asti or a digestivo, like the shots of Belle Epoque Vermouth pictured below.
Still looking for Easter recipe ideas? Well, don’t forget to check out what my fellow Cucina Conversations fellow bloggers have prepared for you:
Oh, and I also wrote about another Easter treat for Italy Magazine late last month, Florentine pandiramerino, delightfully sticky rosemary and sultana studded buns traditionally served on giovedì santo or Holy Thursday.
Vi auguro Buona Pasqua! Wishing you all a lovely Easter!