I'm sitting in Contracts class, drinking hazelnut coffee spiked with Frangelico. If I were a good law student, I'd be thinking about contracts of adhesion. But I'm a very bad law student, so I'm daydreaming about hazelnuts instead.
Hazelnuts are, hands down, my favorite kind of nut. I love their deep, almost-burnt flavor. I love their mouthfeel, the way they're buttery without being oily. And I love the way they combine with the three C's of dessert: coffee, chocolate, and caramel.
Nowhere is friendlier to the hazelnut lover than Italy. During the semester I spent in Rome, my art history class took a day trip to Caprarola, in Umbria. The region is a big producer of hazelnuts - Nutella* has suppliers in the area - and hazelnut pasta appeared on the menu at lunch. Slicked with sage and brown butter sauce, it was faintly sweet, slightly herbal, and deliciously fragrant. Only good manners stopped me from licking the plate.
Hazelnut is also my favorite flavor of gelato, and the best I found in Rome was at the Gelateria "Old Bridge," near the Vatican on Via dei Bastioni. Granted, I don't think you can find bad gelato in Rome, but the portions at Old Bridge are huge, and the gelato is gloriously creamy. (If you're ever in Rome, make a stop at Old Bridge before you visit the Vatican. It'll make standing in the queue a lot more pleasant.)
My favorite way of eating hazelnuts is still the simplest, however: toasted lightly and sprinkled with salt. They're delicious in a salad with pears and gorgonzola, but as we've already established, I have a habit of eating the individual components of a salad before they're fully assembled.
Hmm. When class is over, I think a trip to Whole Foods may be in order.
*I have nothing to say about Nutella, because it's all been said already by Mort Rosenblum, in his brilliant article, "Where's the Nutella?" You can find it in Best Food Writing 2005.