December: Monte Bianco

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Il Bianco!

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Buon giorno!

There is no more spectacular or dramatic of dessert presentations during the holiday season than the MONTE BIANCO. If you love chestnuts – this is your huckleberry. While this chestnut delight is traditionally served at Christmas, I see no reason why you wouldn’t want to serve this “king of desserts” more often than just one holiday. It certainly merits more attention than a one night wonder. Even the Italians don’t reserve this one just for a holiday dinner. It deserves to be enjoyed again and again, and they do just that throughout the chestnut season. You can serve it in its grand and imposing form as the singular mountain or in individual glasses as little Monte Biancos. Believe me – it is as delicious as it is beautiful. If you are out to impress someone during the holiday – this is your ticket!

Mont Blanc

This very special dessert was originally brought to my attention by my friend, Dayle Morello, from my hometown of Binghamton, New York. She shared a memory with me of one of the finest and most revered physicians in Binghamton whom we both knew, Dr. Louis Borelli. Dr. Borelli was not just well respected and loved, but also – quite the cook! Dayle told me of a chestnut dessert he used to make and share with her family. She described it in gorgeous detail and described how proud he was to present it, and how wonderful it was to eat. She shared with me the recipe that he used, and the one I have posted is very similar to it with some personal tweaks. After the recipe came together, I embarked on a mission of exploration as to the origins of this amazing and beautiful dish.001MonteBianco - actual

What is Monte Bianco? Monte Bianco, also known as Mont Blanc or “White Mountain” is the highest mountain in the Alps and is shared by Italy and France. It is so revered that Italians also refer to it as Il Bianco or The White One. This majestic peak is located between the Aosta Valley in Italy and Haute-Savoie in France. It is always covered with snow and ice which makes the calculation of its exact elevation very difficult.The Aosta Valley is also the tiny northern region of Italy called Valle D’Aosta. On the map, you’ll find this region, high in the Alps, in the northwestern corner just above Piemonte. In this region, both Italian and French are spoken. You might also find some German-speaking people there as well. Its food is French influenced. Monte Bianco and the mountainous terrain are responsible for tourism in the region as it is the center of Italian ski country and provides generous climbing opportunities as well as thermal baths. One can see why the mountain so dominates the area and has even crept into its cuisine.

A little history: MONTE BIANCO is hardly new. You have to consider – that mountain has been sitting there a long time. You can be sure they didn’t wait for modern times to create such a stunning dish. It actually goes as far back in cookbooks as 1475 and was a favorite dessert of that infamous family of the period, and forerunner of the Kardashians in fame and dysfunction – the Borgias. Today, even the Milanese have adopted it and post it continuously on their fall menus when chestnuts abound.

OK – this looks HARD! Sorry, no excuses! This one is just not that difficult. (Don’t you just hate it when someone says that?) It’s true. You have options – You can roast 2 pounds of chestnuts or purchase 2 (14.8 oz) jars of roasted chestnuts at your grocer where they are generally carried in the fall. I have offered the demonstration using the roasted chestnuts in the jar – which are really perfect for this – and also –it saves time. One thing to note is that if you do use the jar – the chestnuts may be more expensive, but are more plump and moist. If you choose to roast your own, put a slit in each one on their round side, so they won’t explode in your oven and attract men in Hazmat suits. Roast them in a single layer in a 425 oven for about 20 minutes until tender. Pour them into a towel and wrap them until they cool. This will steam them so that you can peel them easily with a knife. Make sure to get all of the skins off. Truly, guys, save yourself a headache, and BUY THE ROASTED ONES IN THE JAR!

The tool: One little tool you will need for this is a ricer. A food mill will work also – but a ricer is easier. Ricers are great. You use them for gnocchi making, mashed potatoes, and so many other things. You can find ricers anywhere they sell cooking utensils. These are simple hand tools to use, by the way. The ricer will make your MONTE BIANCO look like a MONTE BIANCO. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?

MONTE BIANCO

Serves: 8-10

Prep: About an hour and 1/2 + several hours chilling time

Ingredients:

About 2 lb. Roasted Chestnuts – fresh roasted or jarred

2 c. milk

1/2 c. sugar

1 tsp vanilla

pinch salt

pinch fresh grated nutmeg

1/4 c. Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum , Brandy, or Frangelico

1 1/2 c. Heavy Cream whipped with 6 Tbsp. Powdered Sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla (make extra of this if you like, so that you have a generous amount to serve on the side)

Grated Dark Chocolate

Candied Cherry for top

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Instructions:

Put the chestnuts, milk, sugar, vanilla and salt in a pan.

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Bring to a boil and then reduce the temperature to let it just simmer. Simmer about 15 minutes or until milk has been absorbed by the chestnuts. As it simmers, stir it and break up and mash the chestnuts with a spoon, or you can use a potato masher. They break up more easily as they soften and absorb the milk. When milk has been absorbed, remove from heat.

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Put the mixture through the ricer and let the it fall into a large bowl. Some people like to add about 8 oz. melted dark chocolate at this point and stir in. I like chestnuts enough to keep to the pure chestnut idea. Up to you.

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Add the rum, brandy, or liqueur. Stir well until incorporated. Chill in refrigerator at least 3 hours or overnight. (You can do this much a day ahead.)

When ready to prepare, put the mixture through the ricer a second time – only THIS time, do it over your serving plate, allowing the chestnut mixture to mound like a “mountain” onto the plate.

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You can push it a little to guide it with your hands, but don’t push it so much that it loses it’s riced and craggy appearance. It should mound easily in loose strands to make the mountain.

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Top it with whipped cream and let it slide down the sides a little, guiding with a spoon, to give the appearance of snow on a mountain. Some like to pipe it, but I much prefer the more natural appearance of the cascading cream.

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Sprinkle a little grated chocolate on the cream and surround the mound with the remaining grated chocolate.

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Put the MONTE BIANCO in the refrigerator uncovered and chill for a few hours til ready to serve.

Serve with a bowl of remaining whipped cream to pass to your guests.

What to serve with it? My friend who lives in Italy likes to remind me “It’s Prosecco O’clock in Naples”! She often leaves me wondering if it’s always Prosecco O’Clock over there… In that spirit, I would say, it’s time to crack a bubbly for this one and a nice crisp Prosecco would fill the bill.

MONTE BIANCO is the dessert they’ll be talking about long after your dinner, party, or holiday meal. This is “the one” or as the Italians like to say “Il Biancothe white one”.

BUON NATALE A TUTTI!

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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography

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Comments

  1. Dayle Morello says:

    Spectacular!

  2. Linda,
    I am so appreciative of the recipes and history
    of the Italian heritage that was so rich in
    “our Binghamton , NY.”

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