While traveling in Italy this fall, I visited the Piedmont region in the country’s northwest part. This is prime hazelnut country, and I was lucky enough to tour the Barroero Farm.
The operation is impressive; in addition to growing and supplying hazelnuts for local businesses and customers, the family runs a bakery and confectionery on-site where they produce gianduja (chocolate hazelnut spread), an assortment of cookies and cakes, hazelnut butter and a variety of roasted and seasoned hazelnuts.
As a result of the regional ubiquity of hazelnuts, many of the restaurants incorporate them into their dishes, both savory and sweet.
I took a cooking class at Trattoria Risorgimento in Trieso, and the chef featured hazelnuts in both the main course and the dessert. Both were delicious, although I took exception to the name of the dessert: chocolate salami is a hideous handle. I wondered if perhaps it sounded better in Italian, but “salame di cioccolato” was just as bad.
However, as Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” And the dessert is unquestionably delicious regardless of its moniker.
Hazelnut-Crusted Trout with Chickpea Sauce
Chef Goele used locally-sourced salmon trout for this dish, but any mild fillet would be fine here —flounder, white trout, black or striped bass, snapper, fluke, etc.
The sauce was a delicious use of chickpeas and made for a lovely, healthy accompaniment to the fish. It would be wonderful as a dip, a topping for vegetables or on chicken or meat (if the latter, kosher diners can eliminate the cheese).
However, the fish stands perfectly well on its own, so if a sauce is not desired, or you don’t feel like cooking and pureeing the chickpeas, let the fish go it alone.
For the sauce:
1½ cups dried chickpeas
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt/pepper to taste
For the fish:
1½ pounds salmon trout fillets
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup crushed hazelnuts
4 leaves sage, finely chopped
Salt/pepper to taste
1 stick butter, melted
For the sauce: Soak the beans overnight or for 1 hour in boiled water. Drain them, and cover them with water. Add the onion, and simmer for about 90 minutes until the peas are soft.
Puree the chickpeas, then add salt, oil and cheese. If the sauce is too thick, add some broth or water. Set the sauce aside and keep it warm in preparation for garnishing the fish.
For the fish: Heat your oven to 325 degrees F. Mix the breadcrumbs, hazelnuts, sage, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. Dredge the trout in the melted butter and then dredge it in the breadcrumb mixture to coat. Press gently to ensure adherence. Place the fish in a parchment-lined pan and bake it 15-20 minutes until done. Plate the fillet with warm sauce on the side, and drizzle the sauce with a bit of olive oil, if desired.
Chef used ultra-pasteurized eggs in his version, which were uncooked. I still have an aversion to consuming raw eggs, even if they are ultra-pasteurized, so I have brazenly altered his recipe. In this version, I omit the eggs and use milk along with dark chocolate. The results are excellent, and there is no fear of illness.
1 cup dark chocolate chips
5 tablespoons butter
⅓ cup milk
¼ cup cocoa powder
2 cups crushed plain cookies (such as social teas, digestive biscuits, graham crackers)
⅔ cups crushed hazelnuts
Melt the butter and chocolate in a large bowl in your microwave on 50% power. When melted, add the milk and cocoa powder; stir until smooth. Add the cookies and nuts, and stir until coated.
Transfer the mixture onto a parchment or wax paper sheet, and roll it into a log, pressing firmly to remove all air pockets. Twist the ends, and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
Peel off the paper, slice the log into discs, sprinkle them with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve.