Noted cookbook author Francine Segan’s warmth, energy and enthusiasm charmed the Morning Forum of Los Altos audience Nov. 5.
Segan, a food historian and lecturer, is a frequent guest on the Food Network, the Discovery and History channels, CBS and PBS. She based her Morning Forum presentation on her cookbook “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets” (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2011).
Upon entering the lecture, Segan gave each attendee a packet of five distinct Italian chocolates. The samples included 85 percent dark chocolate (all chocolate), 70 percent dark chocolate (chocolate and some sugar), 51 percent dark chocolate (chocolate and more sugar), dark chocolate infused with limoncello (chocolate and lemon liqueur) and milk chocolate (one-third chocolate, one-third sugar and one-third milk). She asked the audience to smell the chocolates and listen to the sounds as they snapped off bits of the confections. Finally, audience members tasted the samples to determine their favorites, with Segan describing each one’s unique characteristics.
Chocolate has an Italian history, according to Segan. In the early 1500s, Christopher Columbus discovered cocoa beans in the Mayan region of Central America and brought them back to Spain for Queen Isabella. By the 1800s, Italy became the major manufacturer of chocolate. Today, she said, chocolate is widely loved and eaten in Italy, where espresso is often served with a piece of chocolate.
In “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets,” Segan compiled dessert recipes from all regions of Italy.
“Cooks in each region use different ingredients,” she said.
Segan added that local foods determine desserts.
“Depending on the area, desserts are made with chocolate, herbs, fruits, nuts, honey, cheese and, surprisingly, pasta and vegetables (such as eggplant, spinach and radicchio),” she said. “There are even desserts containing meat.”
While most Italian districts grow nuts, often they grow different nuts, Segan noted.
“Piedmont has hazelnuts, Sicily has almonds and pistachios, and Rome has walnuts,” she said. “Desserts in Piedmont, Sicily and Rome use the nuts that are available.”
There are more than 100 pasta desserts, according to the author, many of which are fried.
“In Italy, anything fried is delicious,” she said.
The Morning Forum of Los Altos is a members-only lecture series that meets at Los Altos United Methodist Church. For membership details and more information, visit morningforum.com.