One of our first weekends in Rome took us to Eataly, the shrine to consumerism in terms of Italian regional food, which first opened its doors in the US but now has several locations across Italy, including one in Rome. Eataly Roma stretches across 4 floors in the Air Terminal Ostiense with 3 floors dedicated to all things food and drink as well as a fourth floor which is used for cooking demonstrations. Each floor not only gives you the option of stocking up on some of the best regional products Italy has to offer but also offers various little bars, restaurants and cafes.
Although at first glance a food lovers’ paradise, there seems to be quite a bit of controversy surrounding Eataly – in a country where eating regional dishes, prepared using local and seasonal produce with few if any food miles still reigns supreme (this is after all the country that gave birth to the Slow Food movement more than 25 years ago), the concept of buying regional products for example, ‘fresh’ Mozzarella in Bologna, hundreds of kilometres from where these products are produced, is still an alien concept.
Yet, when I entered Eataly for the first time, I was, admittedly, in heaven. There were rows after rows of all different types of pasta from all the major artisan brands, there was an impressive choice of wholemeal pasta and even wholemeal rice (and I certainly picked up a bag of wholemeal risotto rice) and the walls of different types of flour (including spelt and kamut, almost all stone-ground and organic) made me week in my knees. And let’s not even talk about their wine selection or their cheese and salumi counters. But, there are at least two major downsides to shopping at Eataly and reasons why I now understand the controversy surrounding this place.
One, almost everything is overpriced (Alessandro spotted a bottle of wine from Piemonte that normally retails for around EUR 3, here they wanted almost EUR 10 for the bottle) – this might explain the hordes of well-heeled customers with overflowing carts. The other downside is that some products simply do not travel well. Yes, you can easily transport, and even export, Gran Padano cheese and fennel-flavoured Tuscan sausages, but milk products like Ricotta and Buffalo Mozzarella are best when eaten fresh, in the case of Mozzarella, ideally the same day it was made, with the Mozzarella never having seen the insides of a fridge.
While we left behind the overpriced wine and the Mozzarella (which we can easily purchase fresh close to Alessandro’s parents’ place), I could not help but stock up on some stone-milled organic wholemeal spelt flour which I used to make some chocolate chip cookies.
Although I had vowed in my last post not to start baking chocolate chip cookies yet given my recent pasta and pizza extravaganza, that is exactly what I baked a few days later. We still had lots of leftover banana bread and due to spending the remainder of my week in London to handover my old flat and catch up with friends and colleagues I wanted to bake something that would keep better than the more breakfast-type things I have been baking lately. And, to be perfectly honest, the urge to try baking chocolate chip cookies using browned butter just became too much to bear …
Browned Butter Chocolate Chip and Walnut Cookies
Adapted from Heston Blumenthal
Makes ca. 25 cookies
115g browned butter, solidified
135g caster sugar
135g brown sugar
1 medium-sized egg
200g wholemeal spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
100g chocolate, roughly chopped
40g walnuts, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt flakes
2. Cream the butter with the two types of sugar until the mixture is pale and the butter is fluffy.
3. Add the egg and beat until well combined.
4. Mix the flour with the salt, baking powder, chocolate and walnuts. Combine with the creamed butter and sugar.
5. Using a spoon or ice cream scoop drop tablespoon sized lumps of dough onto the two baking trays, making sure to keep ca. 5cm of space between the cookies. I tend to use a tablespoon-sized measuring spoon for this.
6. Sprinkle the cookies with sea salt flakes and bake for ca. 8-10 minutes. The cookies will be very soft when you take them out of the oven but will firm up as they cool down.
I say I ‘adapted’ Heston’s recipe because although I stayed generally true to the proportions in Heston’s recipe, I changed the original recipe quite a bit: I made some additions in the form of sea salt and chopped walnuts, increased the amount of sugar (throwing in some brown sugar for extra toffee flavours), substituted the plain flour with wholemeal spelt flour and reduced the amount of flour by 10% to accommodate wholemeal flour’s bigger thirst and left out the coffee powder altogether.
The end result were two dozen medium-sized cookies (similar in circumference to a mandarine) with a decent amount of chocolate and walnut chunks, crisp on the outside and just a wee bit underdone, with a deep brown and toffee like colour and a strong butterscotch flavour from the browned butter that was nicely contrasted by the flecks of sea salt on top of the cookies.
If there is one thing I would do differently next time, I would let the dough rest at least overnight, if not for 24 hours. Many recipes for chocolate chip cookies suggest letting the dough rest between 12-36 hours in the fridge for improved flavour profiles and to achieve better spread. I am always too impatient for that but maybe one day I will find the strength to be patient and wait (it’s funny though that I have no problems waiting for bread dough to slowly prove in my fridge for 12 or 24 hours) …