Snapshots from Italy: Torrone Therapy
Last week, I polished off what was left of the Christmas torrone that was left in the candy dish on my desk. I was parsing it out slowly, weekly, hoping to stretch out the nutty-sweet pleasure until Easter candy would arrive. Alas, the last few pieces went down my throat during a painful round of convulsive sobbing over the exchange rate. Since that situation shows no sign of easing any time soon, it was time to head out for some reinforcements today.
Torrone is made all over Italy, and nearly every region puts its own particular slant on it, embellishing the nougat candy with local ingredients and flavors. Some versions are firm and chewy, others soft and creamy, studded with almonds, walnuts, pistachios, or hazelnuts, alone or in combination. Benevento’s torrone is flavored with Strega, the native liquor; further south it is enlivened with lemon or orange, and in Piemonte it is always packed with the region’s richly flavored hazelnuts.
Where did it all begin? The historical details are a little murky, since this sweet has Greek, Arab, and Roman origins. We do know for sure that the ancient Romans enjoyed a delicacy they called cupedia, made with egg whites, honey and almonds, reserving it only for the most special of ceremonies and occasions.
Rome can lay some claim to the torrone legacy, but there is some pretty stiff competition in the modern candy pantheon. The city of Cremona in Emilia-Romagna is perhaps the most famous of the torrone towns. In 1441, torrone became an elaborate prop to celebrate the marriage of Bianca Maria Visconti to Francesco Sforza, when the town confectioners constructed a replica of Cremona’s tower entirely out of nougat. Cremona is still in-your-face proud of its role in thrusting torrone into the minds of European nobility, and thusly the world back in the 15th century, and every November the city celebrates its premier status with a yummy torrone festival.
My needs are more immediate, so I headed for Pasticceria Valzani, tucked away on Via del Moro in Trastevere. This family-operated shop is one of the few in town that makes a Roman version of nougat. Their extra-sweet Torrone Romano is quite soft and fluffy, with a distinctive flavor that is unlike any other torrone I’ve tried. Instead of being shaped into a flat brick, it is molded into a log, encased by an outer coating that keeps the soft texture together when it is cut into slices. A nice assortment will include crushed pistachios, pignoli nuts, Valzani’s own dark chocolate an delicate pearls of sugar. Perfect ammunition against a cruel currency market, and €8 worth of valuable, sweet retail therapy.
Via del Moro 37