Surprise everyone at the table with a classic Italian treat!
Something must be said for childhood favourites, where us adults take a bite and are instantly transported back to lunch in Nana's kitchen or family Christmas Dinner - a fondness in home-cooked comfort food where the 'comfort' is mostly reminiscence.
Many faded photographs of bygone birthday parties depict tables full of treats and between bright orange crisps and fizzy drinks the home-made bakes stand out, those we'd always count on to make an appearance, those that imprinted our memories.
Flicking through Nonna Lili's pile of yellowing 70s prints and besides the rosy faces, I'm focused on the food. Italy's beloved crostata is a sweet staple and guaranteed to make the party table either as simple apricot jam or perhaps with Nutella (blog post soon to follow) but another kiddies favourite which regularly took centre stage was Italy's salame al cioccolato. Because who doesn't love a good fridge cake?
Historically this quirky treat has been in Italy since 1891 when it featured in Pellegrino Artusi's classic recipe book 'La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene', as a magical medley of pig's blood and chocolate. This was a prized tradition with all kinds of potential sweeteners added to the blood - honey, grape must, fruit or Vinsanto.
Time passed and the 'chocolate salame' kept its name but lost its meat, ending up in a beautifully decadent, however simple, dolcetto at every children's party, and subsequently Christmas and Easter too.
The recipe is so simple:
Chocolate or cocoa, butter, eggs and sugar are mixed into a creamy paste and added to broken-up biscuits (they remind us of the little lumps of fat, in 'real' salame). If eggs are included, the ingredients are cooked. Dark chocolate is traditionally used to add flavour plus a swig of rum or Marsala (even at kids' parties).
The mixture is rolled and shaped like a sausage, set in the fridge and dusted in icing sugar or biscuit crumbs to truly resemble a pork salame.
(Yes, one salame, two salami.)
The biscuits must be simple - in Italy 'Oro Saiwa' are the most trusted but actually any plain, vanilla biscuit will do, as long as it's not rich. We use malt biscuits in our British kitchen.
Nobody truly knows where salame al ciccolato originates (unusual for Italy) most likely due to the number of regional versions out there. The majority say Sicily, early 1900s, so they went ahead and claimed the recipe in 2012, adding it to an ever-growing list of Prodotti Agroalimentari Tradizionali Italiani (PAT) from the Ministero delle Politiche Agricole, Alimentari e Forestali.
Ask a Sicilian and he'll swear it's always been theirs.
It's known in Sicily as Salame Turco (Turkish Salame), not from its origins allegedly, but from its dark colour. Sicily was an ancient melting pot of diversity as an island stop-over in the Mediterranean Sea and a link between East, West and Africa. Before being known as the Turkish Salame, it was named Salame Vichingo (Viking Salame) but nobody knows why.
Many regional versions exist throughout Italy:
Piemonte - made with local hazelnuts or gianduja (hazelnut chocolate) and wrapped in a net, fondly called 'il Salame del Papa' - the Pope's Salame.
Napoli - very popular in Naples and made with rum, the recipe features in the definitive recipe book of Neapolitan dishes (piatti partenopei) 'Frijenno Magnanno'.
Sicilia - with added candied fruits and almonds from Avola or Pistacchi from Brum, Marsala is added, not rum.
We love to wrap our Chocolate Salami in festive string at Christmas and present them as 'proper' salami - they're always a popular treat on our menu from November and make the best quirky gift for a foodie!
Secret Santas, corporate gifts or for a fun family meal - present 'pudding' on a wooden board, wrapped as a salame and surprise everyone at the dinner table!
You can order yours here from November, ours don't contain alcohol so are perfectly safe for kids' parties too :)