Last month I was invited to a “Special Class at Perugina’s Legendary Chocolate School” that was being held at La Scuola di Eataly (the largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace in the world, located in New York City’s Flatiron District). And for those of you who are unaware, Perugina is known worldwide for its iconic Baci chocolate line. The class would include a little history mixed with a little chocolate making, topped with a little dessert tasting.
Eataly and chocolate? Say no more. I felt as if I had just won the coveted Golden Ticket from one of my favorite characters of all time, none other than Mr. Willy Wonka himself…well, his Italian brother, anyway. (Warning: If you have never seen the movie Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, you may want to consider skipping this blog entry because the majority of it will not make the least bit of sense.)
“Oh, you can’t get out backwards. You’ve got to go forwards to go back…better to press on.” (See what I mean?)
I was fortunate—and honored—to be given a front row seat to all of the action. As soon as the class began, Francine Segan, an expert on the subject of chocolate who was trained at the legendary Perugina Scuola del Cioccolato in the heart of Italy (www.francinesegan.com ), took center stage. Full of knowledge, enthusiasm and personality, Francine entertained the audience with a number of fascinating nuggets of Italian chocolate history. A few highlights (that the hidden nerd in me jotted down): Italians were the first to wrap chocolate in paper; Italians were the first to consider chocolate a spice, which explains why they sprinkle or grate it on many dishes, such as boar and chili; and Casanova wrote in his memoirs, “Chocolate gets blood to all the right places.”
“So much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.”
About 30 minutes later, Francine ended the history lesson in order for the food portion of the class to begin. Within seconds, each of us classmates were handed a beautifully sinful tray: a bowl of freshly-melted Perugina dark chocolate, a dish filled with Gianduia chocolate (whipped chocolate filling blended with finely chopped hazelnuts), a bowl of whole hazelnuts, complete with ground hazelnuts, two Baci chocolates…and a glass of Prosecco.
“Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.”
Channeling my inner Veruca Salt, I tasted, then rolled, then dipped, then tasted, then sipped, all in the name of creating my take-home box of Baci confections. (Alright, if you’ve met me for more than one minute, you’re well aware that Veruca and I are polar opposites. If anything, I’m 85% Charlie Bucket, 10% Mike TeeVee [naturally, for our mutual love for television] and 5% Augustus Gloop [“Let me in, I’m starving!”]. However, Veruca is the character I secretly long to be in a selfish, egotistical and shallow world…where everyone loathes me, of course.)
When Perugina Playtime came to a close, I assumed that class was over. As I dabbed antibacterial gel on my left palm (Sidenote: a cookie dough-scented gel, nonetheless), Francine announced that it was time to taste our final treat: Baci Dessert Pasta.
“If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it…”
My heart beating wildly, she explained how easy it is to create this simple Italian delicacy at home. I admit it took every fiber of my being to refrain from belting out Veruca’s infamous lyrics, “Don’t care how, I want it now!” But it was well worth the wait. This dish was a first for me, and while chocolate pasta may sound a little odd, trust me when I say it was, well, scrumdiddlyumptious.
“I never dreamed that I would climb over the moon in ecstasy, but nevertheless it’s there that I’m shortly about to be.”
The event had come to an end, so I took the necessary photos I needed for this blog, gathered my belongings and said my goodbyes and thank you’s to my gracious hosts: Francine, Jennifer Lionti from Colavita USA, Garima Pandey from the Bender Hammerling Group, and Federico Giorgio Marrano, Perugina Export Manager.
“Adieu, adieu, parting is such sweet sorrow.”
With my Perugina goody bag in hand (which included our homemade treats, a package of recipes, press materials and an apron), I headed to Caffe Lavazza in Eataly’s marketplace. Sipping on a skim cappuccino (come on, you knew it was coming!), I toyed with the idea of quoting lines from Willy Wonka throughout this blog.
“No, you’ll just come across as immature and unsophisticated,” stated my serious side. But as I headed home to New Jersey and cruised with an open sunroof on the upper level of the George Washington Bridge, I recalled the clever words spoken by a quirky, yet quite insightful individual:
“A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”
Baci Dessert Pasta:
½ pound spaghetti
12 Perugina Baci candies
Whipped cream or mascarpone cheese; hazelnut liqueur, such as Frangelico (optional)
1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain.
2. Put 1 whole Baci in each of 4 coffee cups, wine glasses or dessert bowls. Divide the hot pasta among them and top each with 2 more coarsely crushed Baci.
3. Serve immediately, topped with a dollop of whipped cream or mascarpone cheese and a splash of hazelnut liqueur, if you like.
"Where is fancy bred, in the heart or in the head?"
"99...44...100 percent pure."
With Federico Giorgio Marrano
With Francine Segan