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Nourishments: Nuts About Nutella

I think it is a good idea to avoid processed foods, but like so many good ideas it is one that I find hard to adhere to in some cases. Nutella, for instance.

Nutella is a hazelnut and cocoa spread (the original hazelnut spread, as the label is happy to pronounce) originating in wartime Italy, but made in Canada, according to the jar I most recently purchased. Along with the hazelnuts, skim milk, and cocoa with which I have no problem, Nutella uses palm oil, reduced minerals whey (whatever that means), and vanillin, a cheap substitute I normally would not stoop to use.

I know there are delicious, more natural alternatives to this spread easily available, but time and again my hand passes over those loftier hazelnut spreads on the shelf to snag that squat, white-topped jar with the black and red label.

This is not solely my humble opinion, either, apparently. Earlier in March, The New York Times reported that students at Columbia University were hoarding Nutella from the cafeteria in such quantity that the school is questioning the wisdom of stocking the spread. (Which, by the way, is offered in the cafeteria due to a great demand.)

I think it is because I first came across the confection as a high school student visiting Germany in the 1970s that this original nutty chocolatey treat has endeared itself to me. Tiny little jars of it were in the hostess baskets of hotels (where I first learned that nothing is for free) and placed alongside jams at the breakfast tables. My host family in Munich always put a jar out along with croissants and hearty pumpernickel bread. How could I not fall in love with Nutella? That’s just the way it is with fond memories.

Nutella was first imported to the United States in 1983, causing me to squeal with delight when I spotted it in a specialty foods store shortly thereafter. It wasn’t long, I’m happy to report, before Nutella was conveniently stocked in most major supermarkets.

“Germans are crazy for Nutella!” a German acquaintance once told me, happily going through a jar of the sweet treat at the rate Americans polish off peanut butter. And wouldn’t you know it, that combo is one of my favorite Nutella snacks.

I love it on a slice of whole wheat or oatmeal bread smeared with peanut butter. It glides over the surface and enmeshes itself into a happy marriage of hazelnuts and peanuts, with the added attraction of chocolate.

Nutella is versatile. It’s an instant frosting, slipping over the crested bow of a cake top and allowing itself to be dipped and swirled into an inviting pattern. Brownies perk up when slathered with Nutella, and peanut butter cookies take on a new persona.

Do I hear ice cream calling? Nutella is a little thick for draping over a mound of ice cream, but who said you can’t swirl your topping into the frosty dessert?

On the healthier side, a banana or apple slices spread with Nutella is a tempting snack, and while this creamiest of spreads tends to take a nose-dive off of orange wedges, it’s a classic combination — if you can get it to your mouth in one piece.

At 100 calories per tablespoon, half of which come from fat, I can’t in good conscience recommend Nutella as an everyday option. Even the amounts of protein, calcium, and iron contained in a serving are not highly redeeming.

But I can recommend it as a surefire means of putting a smile on your face. Sometimes, that is nourishment enough.

You can find dozens of Nutella recipes at www.nutelladay.com/nutella-recipes, but I like this tart recipe that originally appeared in the December 2004 Gourmet magazine. It is simple, and simply delicious.

 

Chocolate Hazelnut Tart

    1½ cups graham cracker crumbs

    ¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

    ¼ teaspoon salt

    1 cup hazelnuts (4¾ oz), coarsely chopped

    1 cup heavy cream

    10½ oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened),     

     finely chopped

    ½ cup Nutella

 

Make crust and toast nuts:

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Invert bottom of springform pan (so that turned-up edge is underneath for easier removal of tart) and close side of pan onto bottom.

Stir together crumbs, butter, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a bowl, then press onto bottom of springform pan. Bake crust in lower third of oven 7 minutes, then cool crust in springform pan on a rack.

While crust bakes, toast hazelnuts in a shallow baking pan in upper third of oven, stirring once, until golden, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate and cool to room temperature.

 

Make filling while crust cools:

Bring cream to a boil in a 1- to 2-quart saucepan, then pour over chocolate in a heatproof bowl, whisking until chocolate is melted and smooth. Whisk in Nutella until combined, then whisk in nuts and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt.

Pour filling onto cooled crust and put in freezer until just set, about 25 minutes. (Tart should not be frozen.) Remove side of pan before serving tart.

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