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  • Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Butter + Ricotta-Strawberry Toast

    So, I'll just say that eating toast every morning always brings me back to the summer I spent studying in Italy. In a small-ish town outside of Firenze (Florence), called Sesto Fiorentino. Villa Corsi Salviati was where the home-base was...a true Italian Villa. Murals, glass light fixtures from Venice, Italian Gardens with a fountain. All very low-key but still, so impressive and beautiful all at once. 

    The dining hall hours brought regularity to communal eating. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were served promptly, and cleaned-up promptly. 

    The lunches and dinners were amazing, no doubt; but my favorite was likely breakfast: it was light, to the point, but kinda in your face. Typically, it was toast, jam, NUTELLA (because outside of the US, everyone is mainly like, wtf is peanut butter?), and coffee with milk. There were probaly a few other options, I think yogurt and fruit were in there somewhere, but mostly, I had a thing with the coffee and toast and Nutella situation each morning. 

    Ok, save the few mornings that left over dessert from the dinner the night before-which was also not after every dinner-that the course live-in coorindator, Helen, would bring down; you'd have to get down there EARLY to snag a leftover piece of her cakes. The one I remeber the best was a simple Genoise sponge, filled with lightly sweetened whipped cream (but I bet there was some ricotta or mascarpone in there, too), studded with berries and jam, and the top cake layer was dusted with powdered sugar. With a cup of strong Italian coffee, this was perfection. All these memories prompted me to make a batch of my version of Nutella, which is really just dark chocolate blended with freshly roasted hazelnuts, sea salt and vanilla. Sweet enough to eat by the spoon, but not sweet enough to enjoy without it overpowering other components. As an homage to my two favorite breakfasts while residing in the Villa Gramsci, I swirled whole milk ricotta with dollops of my Nutella on top of freshly toasted bread (any will work), and topped with strawberries tossed in a drizzle of maple syrup (any berries will work, and you can also macerate with honey, sugar, etc). 

    Sweet, creamy, pockets of nutty chocolate spread, on a crunchy base. I can think of few other breakfasts that would start my day well. I hope you find your ultimate way of enjoying this spread, too (and right in time for strawberry season here in Wisconsin, too). 



    Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Butter // makes about 1 1/4 cups //

    • 2 generous cups of hazelnuts, raw
    • 2/3 cups dark chocolate (use milk if you want to, for a more authentic Nutella!)
    • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp sea salt (start with 1/4, and taste)
    • splash of vanilla extract, if desired (do NOT add the vanilla extract directly to the melted chocolate)

    1. Preheat oven to 350F. On a sheet tray, scatter the hazelnuts. Toast for 10-12 minutes. The nuts should be fragrant and the skins will be peeling away from most of the nuts.

    2. While toasting, prepare your chocolate by melting (I simply use my microwave in 10 second bursts, stirring in between). Grab a large kitchen towel and un-fold it. Set by the oven.

    3. Once nuts are toasted, remove from oven and transfer into the un-folded kitchen towel. Fold it up, and rub the towel on the hazelnuts to remove most of the skins.

    4. Transfer hazelnuts, minus most of the skins, to a blender or food processor. Process, tamping if using a Viamix or scraping down with a spatula as needed in a food processor. When the mass starts to release oils, and begins to come together into a butter, add the chocolate, sea salt and vanilla. Continue to process until it is to your desired consistency (I like my very smooth). Taste for salt.

    5. Store in a jar or other container with tight fitting lid; allow to cool before placing in to the fridge if you will store it there (it will harden if you do, but placing on warm toast will melt it). You can also heat it up very carefully, using a hot water bath or 5 second bursts in the microwave.