Updated: Apr 9
This month, I'm visiting northern Italy, in particular the Piedmont (Piemonte) region. So let's explore one of the region's favourite locally grown ingredients, La Nocciola.
Hazelnuts (nocciole) are a beloved ingredient of the Piedmont area. And Torino, the city where I’m currently staying, is especially obsessed with the combination of hazelnuts AND chocolate. I mean, who wouldn't be? The earliest version of Nutella originated in this northern region. The local Ferrero factory still churns out the much loved choc-hazelnut spread today and is now manufactured around the world. But we know Nutella isn’t vegan. But of course there are even better (vegan) versions such as Aussie spread Pana Chocolate or Crema Numero Uno in Italy. Well before Nutella was ever packaged, there was a concoction called 'Gianduia' or 'Giandjua'. This simple paste of cocoa, sugar and hazelnuts is said to be created by the Piemontese and rose out of a lack of cocoa. So instead of making a pure chocolate, it was more affordable at the time to mix cocoa with a hazelnut paste and hence, ‘Gianduia’ was born. This recipe is now used in everything from chocolate, gelato and liqueur. And if you think this ingredient couldn't get any more cultural, the Gianduia name comes from the commedia dell'arte character of the Piedmont region. Chocolate and theatre - what more could you want?
As you can imagine, I made it my mission to seek out the vegan versions of this delicious ingredient. Il Gelato Amico (a 100% vegan gluten free gelateria) offers a gianduja rice milk gelato. Yes, it's as good as it sounds.
The local Torinese specialty chocolate Gianduiotto includes a range of vegan flavours, such as dark, orange and chilli. You can find these chocolates in various stores in Turin or you can visit the two Gianduiotto stores in the city centre.
Are you ready to delve into the alcoholic side of gianduiotto? Heralding from Turin, Vincenzi liqueur has created a drool-worthy creamy liqueur 'Bicerin Gianduiotto' which is both vegan and gluten free. The liqueur uses a vegetable based cream and the signature chocolate-hazelnut flavour that is synonymous with the region. This liqueur is also based on Bicerin, the popular hot drink found in every Torinese coffee house. Bicerin is made with a layer of espresso coffee, a second layer of hot chocolate and topped with cream. You may not be able to hunt down a vegan bicerin very easily in Turin, but you can certainly enjoy this vegan liqueur, which is stocked in bottle shops and some souvenir shops in Turin. Enjoy this poured over ice, stirred through coffee, made into a dreamy cocktail or to enhance a dessert such as tiramisu or custard filled pastries. Smuggle a sealed bottle into your luggage to enjoy it when you return home and dreaming of the Piedmont region.
And to side-step to a more savoury hazelnut offering, I ordered the Farro Tagliatelle in a creamy hazelnut sauce, which was topped with more hazelnuts. What a delightful taste sensation at the all-vegan Mezzaluna Restaurant in Turin.
So, let's think, how will you creatively bring hazelnuts into your culinary world? Will you mix it into savoury dishes like Mezzaluna Restaurant's tagliatelle dish or stick with the popular combo of chocolate and hazelnut in your favourite dessert? Have a go. Bring the Piedmont region into your home.