Sometimes your skills and your passions come together and sometimes in the most unexpected ways. In September 2017, I began offering cooking lessons (such as my Market-to-Table and Pasta-Making experiences with Bonappetour) to visitors to Turin. At the time, it didn’t occur to me to offer an experience suitable for children, despite having many years of young learners teaching experience up my belt. Of course, there’s also Miss C, who helps me in the kitchen while recipe-testing and making meals at home. Instead, it took a local preschool who approached me to design a series of cooking classes a few months later to remind me of just how much children can learn from cooking and how much I’d like to be a part of such worthwhile, hands-on experiences like these.
Now that I’m settling into this role after several months of collaborating with the school – across the river Po in the verdant hill or collina overlooking Turin – I must say that I’m learning or rather, relearning, a lot too. What’s the most important lesson I’ve learnt so far? A wide recipe repertoire – and mine has become fairly vast as a result of a long-term passion for food and cooking – is just not enough. It’s also about anticipating the key stages of all those recipes and processes, analysing them carefully and then giving the children the chance to become active protagonists in the realisation of a final product.
This week, that final product was an edible Christmas gift the children could bring home to their families. When my teaching colleagues asked me a few weeks ago for a suitable gift suggestion, I immediately responded with tartufi di cioccolato or chocolate truffles, something I had made on several times with children at Christmas in a former teaching workplace. It didn’t take long for me to think of a packaging idea for the truffles either, and I offered to plan this aspect for my colleagues and the children too.
Tartufi di cioccolato are an incredibly easy edible gift to whip up, even at the last minute before Christmas. And, as I know from past and present teaching experiences, your children can help you make them if you’re finding your hands are particularly tied at this time of year. Essentially they require the making of a ganache – a mixture of melted chocolate and warmed cream – which is then cooled until firm. The solidified ganache is then rolled into balls and coated in sprinkles, desiccated coconut, cocoa powder, or my personal favourite, roughly ground nuts such the very Piedmontese nocciole or hazelnuts I’ve opted for in the recipe below.
A few pointers before proceeding with your chocolatey treats. Firstly, you want good quality chocolate, preferably dark (I like mine to be at least 70 per cent) which contains no hardening agents when making your truffles. If you prefer the flavour of milk or white chocolate though, do get chips or bars that don’t contain these nasties.
Secondly, a lot of recipes call for heating the cream and melting the chocolate in pot directly placed on a stovetop burner. I, however, prefer to use a bain marie or water bath for the purpose of gently heating chocolate. To make your water bath, simply place a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, ensuring that the water does not come into contact with the bowl sitting over it (see this article for more details on how to avoid your chocolate setting again or seizing).
Finally, I also recommend working in a cooler environment when the time comes to roll out your truffles, especially if your kids offer to help during this fun but undeniably messy stage! Have them wash their hands with cold water, rug them up with a bulky jumper and jacket, and get them rolling in an unheated room in your home. I used the unheated verandata (an enclosed veranda typical of many Italian flats) next to my kitchen to avoid my firmed ganache from melting in my hands.
Tartufi di cioccolato e nocciole
Ingredients (makes about 35 – 40 truffles)
For the ganache
- 250 g quality dark chocolate (about 70%), finely chopped
- 150 g whipping cream
For the coating
- 100 g peeled and roasted hazelnuts, roughly ground
Place cream and finely chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water and allow to melt until obtaining a smooth ganache with no lumps. Remove from heat, leave to cool and transfer the ganache into a shallow pan. Cover and refrigerate until the ganache is firm, about 2 hours. Remove the ganache from the fridge. Using a melon baller or a spoon, scoop to portion the ganache into heaped spoonfuls. Roll into balls the size of large marbles either between your hands or along a cool work surface. Dip the balls in a wide shallow bowl filled with the roughly ground hazelnuts and roll until well-coated. Place on a lined tray and refrigerate until ready to serve or package.
Still looking for more Italian Christmas menu and edible gift inspiration? Well look no further than the following links:
I recently posted on Italy Magazine about one of my favourite pasta dishes, Venice’s bigoli in salsa, which is typically prepared on Christmas Eve and other giorni di magro or fasting days. For another Christmas Eve menu idea, you may also want to try a salt cod and onion-based Piedmontese dish I love, merluzzo con cipolle. Oh yes, there are also the deep-fried zeppole my Calabrese nonna used to make for us on Christmas Eve at this link!
With regards to edible gift ideas, I also posted about croccante, a nut brittle typically made in southern Italy at this time of year, here on the blog a couple of years ago. Though not specifically made for Christmas per se, I can see Piedmontese specialties such as baci di dama, salame del papa and amaretti morbidi working well as treats to give to your loved ones at this time of year too.
Finally, I’m not planning on posting for the rest of 2018 due to family Christmas and cooking lesson commitments so I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all Buon Natale or a very Merry Christmas from my kitchen in Turin. I wish you all the very best during the festive season! A big thank you for following along with my culinary adventures here and on my newsletter (don’t forget to subscribe here at this link if you haven’t already done so). I’m now looking forward to being back here early in the New Year with some reflections on a cookbook I love as well as thoughts on making, cooking and eating my favourite food ever, pasta. A presto!