Step into any Italian grocer or bakery around Toronto this time of year and you’ll find huge displays of imported panettoni. Most come from Northern Italy, especially Milan, where panettone originates and where iconic brands like Motta, Alemagna, Lazzaroni, and Tre Marie are still based.
But if iconic companies from the north (and their less-expensive imitations) dominate the export market, back in Italy you can find artisanal producers all over the country, making classic panettone as well as many regional variations.
And these days a lot of them are from the south. In fact, at the national Re Panettone competition in Milan last week, it was Alfonso Pepe and Sal de Riso, two pastry chefs from the southern region of Campania, who won the top prizes.
Here in Toronto, you’re not likely to find these typical panettoni del sud at the major grocery chains, but more and more are cropping up in specialty locations like Black Skirt (974 College St.), an Italian restaurant that also offers an assortment of imported products, like artisanal pastas, risottos, and antipasti.
If you’ve been there, you know Black Skirt specializes in authentic Sicilian and Calabrese cuisine, reflecting the heritage of owners Aggie Decina and Rosa Gallé. So it’s no surprise that both regions are well represented in their selection of panettoni this year.
From Sicily is the Oro Verde (“Green Gold”) from Fiasconaro, a family-run pasticceria in Castelbuono, Palermo. Fiasconaro prides itself in the use of locally sourced ingredients like vanilla, citrus honey, hazelnuts, and in the case of this panettone, the coveted green Bronte pistachio.
While traditional panettone is often paired with mascarpone or zabaione, this Sicilian variation comes with a 180 gram jar of crema di pistacchio. There’s no candied fruit, but orange puree and Sicilian honey used in the dough give it a tinge of citrus flavour. Like traditional panettone, the dough is leavened slowly, in stages, over a 36-hour period before it’s baked.
“I’d have it with a dessert wine from Sicily,” says Aggie. “Like the Pantelleria Passito we carry by Pellegrino. It’s a fruity Moscato.”
Another family-run business that prides itself on hand-made, all-natural products crafted from regional ingredients is Azienda Nicola Colavolpe, based in Belmonte Calabro, Cosenza. Around for more than a century, their specialty has always been dried figs, often baked with typical Calabrese products like almonds, walnuts, honey, oranges, and citrons, to create a wide range of products.
Black Skirt has two panettoni from Colavolpe this year. The first is a simple local classic: Panettoni ai Fichi e Cioccolato, made with baked figs and shards of extra dark chocolate. There’s no candied fruit or citrus flavouring, just a simple egg, sugar and Piedmont hazelnut glaze.
The other Colavolpe panettone, All’Amarena e Cioccolato, is little more unusual. Amarena is a dark, tart cherry only found in Italy, and used for confectionary purposes. Mixed with dark chocolate and an airy brioche, the Amarena almost a cross between traditional panettone and German black forest cake, especially when paired with something creamy.
“You could pair these panettoni with sweet wines,” Rosa says, “but at home we usually have a small glass of Vecchio Amaro del Capo instead. It’s a very typical herbal drink from Vibo Vilentia, the part of Calabria where my family is from.”
Fiasconaro and Colavolpe panettoni, and other Christmas specialties like slow-baked and chocolate-covered figs, are available at Black Skirt Restaurant throughout the holiday season, while supplies last.