Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Torrone, An Italian Christmas Treat

Christmas in any part of Italy is amazing. There are so many lush varieties of holiday foods that it's like a foodie wonderland. Rome has amazing Hanukkah dishes, while Naples serves up its' traditional thirteen fish dinner on Christmas Eve. Everyone has panetone and pan d'oro. Kids have especially good with a big treat - torrone from Befana, Italy's female version of Santa Claus. This is a wonderful chewy nougat that's eaten this time of year.

Torrone has its roots in ancient Rome where it was literally served up as foods to the gods. It was made and still is made with the basic,s honey egg whites and pistachios or hazelnuts. Squares of it were presented in Roman temples to the various deities for their help or as thanks.Torrone didn't get its' name until 1141 when a pastry chef made it in honor of one of the Sforza's (one of Italy's most powerful medieval families ) married. The marriage was held in Cremona, in central Italy where it was known for its' big tower or torrone. The chef made the candy in the shape of it and guests were impressed with this and the treat's smooth, sweet taste. Nowadays Italians put their own spin on it. Torrone is made with Strega in the Abruzzi region while Sicilians flavor it with orange and lemon.

Torrone can be made at home but it is labor intensive. You have to use egg whites and honey - not an easy combination at times and boil to the soft ball stage. It also requires wafers similar to what is given out in Holy Communion. Like all candy its' best to make torrone on a cool dry day. Make it on a warm humid one and you'll have candy that "weeps" . Clear fluid will ooze out of it creating a sticky mess. Sometimes it's best to stick with the store bought ones.

Torrone is a great treat this time of year. It's a reminder of why the Italians do candy right and produce this amazing mixture of just honey and egg whites.

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