Langhe Hazelnut Meringue Recipe
with Ricotta & Fresh Figs
by Faustina Gilbey
According to ancient Roman folklore to receive a gift of a hazelnut tree – one of our oldest cultivated trees – was supposed to bring happiness. That would be a wonderful gift indeed but I’m more than happy with this basket of hazelnuts (nocciole in Italian) that I was given the other day and, anyway, sadly I don’t have room for a tree on my balcony!
At the moment I’m seeing fresh figs everywhere, dangling seductively on trees – tantalisingly out of reach of my greedy fingers – but luckily also displayed for sale in frutti vendoli and served in restaurants. Yes, it really is the beginning of autumn and I thought I’d like to make a light autumnal dessert with hazelnuts and figs.
The Langhe region of Piedmont, including the regions of Cuneo, Asti and Alessandria, have the best hazelnuts in the world. A rather rash and brazen statement you might say, but one which I think has stood the test of time – and particularly of taste.
It was interesting to read that up until the latter part of the 19th century vines and wine-making were the mainstay of these regions, but when the vines were totally destroyed by disease around 1880 it also destroyed a way of life and a living for the contadini. A solution desperately needed to be found. It was, apparently thanks to Professor Emanuele Ferraris, who came up with the idea of introducing hazelnuts to the area as a substitute crop and these trees, much hardier and more resistant to disease, luckily survived and flourished here.
The variety of hazelnut chosen and carefully nurtured over the years is known as the ‘tonda gentile delle Langhe’ , which basically translates as a type that is ‘round and kind’ from the Langhe’ – I totally love the idea of hazelnuts being kind and I think maybe I understand!
The confectionery world particularly has taken hazelnuts to their heart producing world-renowned delicacies such as the chocolate and nut paste Gianduja; Ferrero Rocher’s chic and lumpy gold-wrapped chocolates; Torta della Nocciola and the Frangelico liqueur with its monk shaped bottle….to name but a few.
But here I’ve made a simple light hazelnut meringue topped with a spoonful of fresh ricotta cheese – or if you can find some of the renowned Robbiola cheese from Murazzano this would work really well – and some sliced fresh figs.
LANGHE HAZELNUT MERINGUE RECIPE
WITH RICOTTA & FRESH FIGS
Recipe Serves 4
Preheat oven 200F/100C
Line a baking tray with parchment baking paper
2 egg whites
100g caster sugar
25g shelled, toasted & ground hazelnuts
Fresh ricotta cheese (or Robbiola a delicious cheese from Murazzano)
Fresh ripe figs
Take a large bowl and whisk the egg whites and salt until you get soft peaks.
Add 50g of sugar – spoonful by spoonful – and continue whisking until stiff.
Gently fold in the remaining sugar and ground hazelnuts.
Using a large tablespoon spoon the mixture onto the lined baking sheets – allowing plenty of space between each one – and smooth them into a round. You should be able to make 8 circles of about 6-7cm in diameter.
Bake for 1½ -2 hours (mine took just under 2 hours). Turn off the heat and allow them to cool inside the oven.
When cooled remove from the oven and serve covered with ricotta cheese and sliced fresh ripe figs. Either serve them open (so there’s 2 each) or serve one double meringue with the ricotta and figs sandwiched between.
Nothing else is needed….they’re beautifully light and fresh, ideal to finish off a meal.
N.B. you can also keep the meringues in a tin for 2-3 days if you’re not using them immediately