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Ode to Nutella
Everyone is learning about the wonders of the chocolate hazelnut spread that has already won Italy's heart
The secret is out of the bag. Now, the world is onto the wonders of Nutella, Italy's peanut butter. You might have noticed commercials for the addictive hazelnut and chocolate spread or seen it on your supermarket shelf (not just in those fancy gourmet shops). And you might have noticed that competitors, including Jif, are beginning to offer imitations.
Although I've never been Nutella's biggest fan, I can remember my cousins dipping strawberries right in the jar when we were kids. Back then Nutella was the best-kept secret of Italian Americans. No other Americans knew what it was. I also remember my relatives spreading it on toast, much like the mom in the TV ad does today. When I started going to Italy more often in 2003, I realized this was more than mere food. This was a phenomenon. People lived for the gooey goodness.
When my sister studied abroad, her favorite snack became Nutella on Ritz crackers, a treasure she picked up from the locals in the Neapolitan neighborhood where she studied. My baby cousins in the United States would request these individual packages of breadsticks and Nutella that you used to be able to find only in Italy's grocery stores. Even those have surfaced Stateside now. My cousins and nieces in Ischia, the island off the coast of Naples from which my husband and ancestors hail, put a thick layer of Nutella on the American pancakes I make for them. They favor it over traditional Maple syrup (even the all-natural real syrup).
Nutella obsessions don't end there. It is used as an ingredient in many a dessert. Crepes are stuffed with Nutella and whipped cream. One pizzeria on the island offers pizza smothered in Nutella. In fact, I recently made a “pizza” with a sugar cookie base, Nutella, and strawberries. And I plan to recreate it in Italy for family there.
In fact, a Web site that honored World Nutella Day in February, is keeper of all sorts of recipes that include Nutella-stuffed French toast, Nutella brownies, Nutella Oreo truffles, and even homemade Nutella. The creativity with which people have used Nutella in cooking is literally awesome. Gourmet chefs, as much as everyday moms, use it to make an impression, to stand out with those who eat their foods. There's something almost magical about the jarred spread.
My husband's nephew, who is now in his 20s, has been indulging in late-night Nutella snacks for as long as I've known him. His friends usually join him after a night of bar hopping. Some of the ladies in Italy use Nutella in the way Americans do ice cream to nurse a broken heart. They might spread it on crusty Italian bread or plain shortbread cookies. It takes away some of the pain, they say.
It's a comfort food that provides sweetness without being too sweet, and offers the taste of chocolate with a bit of healthful nuts. You can go a little overboard and still not feel too guilty – or at least that's what we all tell ourselves. So, don't feel too badly if you find yourself eating an entire jar with a spoon in one sitting. You're not the first one to do it, and you won't be the last.
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