by gina depalma
You say you have never heard of Abruzzo? Of course you haven’t, my dear devotee of Italian cooking. You are too distracted by the poetic praise heaped upon the famed cuisine of Emilia Romagna, Piemonte and Tuscany. Don’t be so silly. Abruzzo may be unknown and untouristed, but its cooking is truly worthy of your attention. Abruzzo’s cooks are known for taking simple ingredients with big flavors and creating rhapsody, and a perfect example is this month’s recipe, Parrozzo.
Parrozzo has a very humble beginning. The name derives from a simple bread made by Abruzzese shepherds, pan rozzo, made from ground corn, water and a bit of olive oil. In 1920, Luigi D’Amico, a baker based in the coastal town of Pescara, took this rather characterless example of cucina povera, or “the poor kitchen,” elevated it with plenty of ground sweet almonds from Abruzzo’s abundant almond groves and embellished his creation with a coating of rich chocolate. Its popularity spread beyond Pescara, and Parrozzo has become one of the iconic sweets of the region. The controversial poet and writer Gabriel D’Annunzio, a native of Pescara and friend of Luigi D’Amico, was so inspired by its unique flavors, he composed a poem about it, Song of The Parrozzo.
The authentic Parrozzo is more like a sweet bread, baked in the shape of dome. My twist turns all of the essential ingredients and big flavors of the original: semolina, ground almonds, lemon and chocolate, and turns it into a cake. I also like to add a bit of chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate to the batter, creating a fun speckled effect. The crumb is tender and moist, and the final coating of chocolate makes this cake a showstopper.
Makes one 9-inch cake, approximately 8-10 servings.
Preheat the oven to 325°F degrees. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan using nonstick cooking spray or butter.
Place the almonds on a baking sheet and toast them until they are golden brown and aromatic. Allow the almonds to cool completely, then place them in the bowl of a food processor. Add the flour, semolina, baking powder and salt, and process until the almonds are finely ground.
In the bowl of an electric mixer use the paddle attachment on medium speed to beat together the butter and sugar until very light and creamy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts and the lemon zest. Add the dry ingredients and the nutmeg, beating well until the batter is thick and emulsified. Fold in the chopped chocolate.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top of the cake with a spatula.
Bake the cake for 25-30 minutes, or until it is golden brown, springs back lightly when touched, the sides have pulled away from the pan, and a cake tester inserted near the center comes out clean.
Cool the cake in the pan, placed on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then remove the sides of the pan and allow the cake to cool completely.
While the cake cools, make the Chocolate Glaze by melting both chocolates over a double boiler and then whisking in the butter and Amaretto. To finish the cake, pour over the glaze onto the middle of the cake and spread it to the sides with a spatula, allowing some of the glaze to dribble over the edge and down the sides of the cake. Carefully transfer the cake to an attractive plate or cake stand, and if desired, decorate with additional sliced, toasted almonds.