Nocciola...Gelato to Brownies via Maroni e Panna Montata

“I’m so tired of coffee and chai. Let’s meet for gelato,” said one of my friends, as we tried to decide where we wanted to do a quick meet-up before another December (and, indeed, another year!!) left us in its wake.

Gelato. O.M.G. I loved gelato. Loved?? Well, I loved gelato when I lived in Italy. But I don’t love the stuff they call “gelato” here in the States. It’s just not the same; something is “off” in the taste, texture, something. There are some cool flavors, though: pineapple basil, mint & rose, caramel tangerine. Don’t those sound yummily tempting? Hm, I may just have to give this gelato thing another shot; just go for the flavors, tell myself it’s ice cream, and enjoy it for what it is.

My all-time favorite flavor, though, was nocciola, hazelnut. Sure, every once in a while I'd veer off the beaten filbert path and get a toroncino (a kind of nut nougat), stracciatella (vanilla & chocolate) or gianduia (hazelnut & chocolate). Occasionally I’d even go fruity with a delicious, refreshing limone (lemon), lampone (raspberry) or fragola (strawberry). But I always came home to the creamy, seductively fragrant nocciola -- except for in wintertime.

Back in the 70’s, you were hard-pressed to find ice cream in winter in northern Italy. “It’s freezing cold outside. Why would you want something freezing cold inside you?” That’s when the season went from offering frozen gelato concoctions to huge drums roasting maroni (chestnuts). Walk down any street in town, and the maroni vendors and shoppers would be huddled around the steaming drums, inhaling the aromas, trying to keep warm, and discussing how bad the last sciopero (strike) was. And then you’d get your own little newspaper sacchetto filled with the x-scored nuts that would absolutely burn your fingers as you tried to peel them. But peel, and quickly peel, you must to get to the cream-coloured, floury, flowery treasure. How often did my tongue literally sizzle when the hot chestnut touched it? Pretty often, but it was worth it.

Besides the maroni, there was also the gustatory optical illusion: panna montata (whipped cream in an ice cream cone). It looked like ice cream, but wasn’t. Eh, I usually opted for the chestnuts.

Then you had the shops that totally changed their inventories with the flip-flopped season: In summer they were the ice cream shop; in winter they might sell furs. One of those switcheroo shops had (in my 70’s teenager mind) the most ingenious, “out there” ice cream dish of all: “spaghetti” ice cream. Vanilla ice cream was pressed through some contraption so that it came out in spaghetti-like strands, topped with strawberry “marinara” sauce, and grated coconut “cheese.” I loved it. Why hadn’t I thought of the century’s most brilliant dessert?? Maybe if I could’ve devised a nocciola-based brown “spaghetti”….Hm, nocciola ice cream “soba” with banana “tempura” and rum caramel “miso sauce”? Think I might be on to something...

So, fall has definitely turned wintry in North Texas: Gusting winds are encouraging the temperatures tonight to drop into the 30’s, with highs tomorrow in the 40’s plummeting into the 20’s overnight. It’s maroni and panna montata weather. Lacking the big roasting drums, and not craving the whipped cream optical illusion, I’ve got nocciola something or other on my mind. Lacking access to great gelato, I’m going for brownies….nocciola brownies.

These are really quick and really good. I use Pamela’s Baking & Pancake Mix; not sure how they would be with a different baking mix. If you try another pre-packaged, or even your own, baking mix, I'd love to know how your brownies turn out.

Hey, C, if you're reading this, come on over. I've got some great nocciola brownies to celebrate the passing of another whirlwind year. And, of course, some bubbly to wash them down.

Buon appetito!

Quick Nocciola Brownies

¼ cup softened butter
¼ cup coconut oil, liquid or soft state
½ cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup Nutella
1 ½ cup Pamela’s Baking & Pancake Mix*
½ to 1 cup dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
good ½ cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
additional Nutella for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 13” x 9” baking pan.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar about 2 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla, and salt. Stir in the Nutella until well-combined. Now add the baking mix, chocolate, and nuts until just combined.

Spread batter in baking sheet, spoon on additional Nutella (sometimes I drizzle it and sometimes I just “glop” it on) -- and make sure to lick all the Nutella off the spoon before putting it in the dishwasher!

Bake about 20-25 minutes. I like them on the “done” side and go for the 25 minutes.

*Even if you’re not gluten-free, Pamela’s Mix is a great and versatile product. Give it a try!

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