Alessandro and I are spending this week on the slopes. Such a ‘settimana bianca’ (a ‘white’ week) is by now a yearly tradition for us. After my first tentative steps on skis on a schooltrip to Austria as a teenager I am now able to tackle almost all slopes and dare I say, even enjoy myself a good deal doing so. While there are a few small slopes not too far from Rome, once you have mastered the basics, they are a bit short and boring. So our yearly ‘settimana bianca’ now takes us up to Northern Italy, to the Dolomites, to San Cassiano in Alta Badia to be precise. A trip we are now doing for the second time with a group of about 10 or so friends. While I feel sorry for anyone else staying in our small hotel given our inevitable loud chatter in the bar after a long day on the slopes (no doubt fuelled by the rather large servings of Aperol Spritz in our small hotel), it is great fun for us. As the group includes expert skiers as well as complete beginners, the first few days we tend to go a bit our own ways in smaller groups, at least in the mornings when the beginners are taking lessons and the others are exploring the various slopes. We try and meet for lunch or at least do one or two slopes together in the afternoon. Later on in the week we tend to do an excursion or two, tackling longer and more panoramic runs further away from where we stay. Anybody who has been skiing before knows that food is a big part of the experience (partly because being out all day in the cold can make you ravenous). The discussions on what to pack for our 10h roadtrip started weeks ago. So did the discussions on which mountain huts to stop at for lunch. I am looking forward to hearty food and generous portions, as well as the odd hot chocolate and shots of grappa. What I am not looking forward to are the limited choice of fresh fruit and other healthy snacks (let alone the overpriced chocolate bars and crisps sold everywhere). So I know to always bring my own snacks when we go skiing, some fresh fruit like bananas and apples, some dried fruit that transports easily (my latest favourite, dried physalis, were on offer the other day – score!) and some type of energy bar. Last year I made these, this year I made brownies. If you feel a bit cheated as these aren’t baked brownies, then I am sorry (but not really). Because although they are not baked they are also not raw – it’s the roasted hazelnuts that give these brownies their amazing flavour (and I don’t think these would be half as nice with raw hazelnuts). I am also not sure they are that ‘healthy’ (at least not if by healthy you mean low calorie), although if given the choice between a regular brownie and this one and you have any concerns about your health, you should choose this one. What I am sure about (and which Alessandro can confirm) is that they are unbelievable moreish and taste in no way healthy. Thanks to a short ingredient list there is nothing getting in the way of their decadent chocolate and toasted hazelnut flavour. They are quite filling thanks to being full of nuts and dates and therefore really are the perfect small bite to bring for a day on the slopes.Roasted Hazelnut, Sea Salt and Date Brownies
Makes 9 small squares
Note: while I try not to insist on expensive ingredients unless absolutely necessary, I would urge you to use the best cocoa powder you can find (Valrhona is my favourite) and using medjool dates for these brownies – these dates are wonderfully soft and give the brownies their soft texture as well as their sweetness.
100g roasted hazelnuts
180g medjool dates, pit removed
100g roasted halzenuts
sea salt, to taste
1. Start by grinding 60g of the roasted hazelnuts in a food processor – you want to stop just short of the hazelnuts turning into a meal. Roughly chop the remaining hazelnuts.
2. Chop the medjool dates finely and add to the ground hazelnuts with a pinch of salt. Pulse until the dates, ground hazelnuts and cacao come together in clumps and the mixture is starting to look a bit shiny (a sign the oil is starting to separate from the hazelnut solids). Take a small amount of the mixture press together between two fingers – if the mixture is soft and keeps its shape and does not crumble, the brownie mix is ready, if not pulse a few more times.
3. Drop the brownie mix on a piece of parchment paper and scatter the chopped hazelnuts on top. Knead the mixture until the hazelnuts are fairly evenly distributed. Add additional salt to taste. Cover mixture in clingfilm and gently squash into a 15x15cm square. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.
4. Using a sharp knife cut square into 9 small brownies. Wrap each brownie in parchment paper or clingfilm and store in an airtight container.