During November in Rome, it’s that time of year when, as an American, I should be craving pumpkin pie. However, as a newly-blessed Italian with an addiction to one of Italy’s finest desserts, all I want is a Mont Blanc.
I’m not talking about a fancy pen from France.
I’m talking about Her Majesty, a seasonal Italian dessert which you won’t find during the spring or summer months, and that pastry shops only offer when chestnuts are at their finest. And, that season, ho ho ho, is now.
What exactly is a Mont Blanc or Monte Bianco? It is a crown of meringues covered in whipped cream both with a chestnut paste wound together on top like a forkful of spaghetti integrali and glazed chestnuts bordering its edges like andalusite gemstones. Its recipe’s origins continue to be battled over between France and Italy — cookbooks and chefs claim it was invented during the reign of the kingdom of Savoia (1861-1946) when France’s influence over Piemonte was extremely strong in cuisine, language and culture. Its name derives from the border between the two countries and the fact that it resembles a mountain-top covered with snow. Italians call it either by its French or Italian name — the French only refer to it in their own language. Figurati.
This year, I’m going to live it up and over-indulge in this personal, gastronomic weakness of mine. Not only because I’m about to celebrate a milestone birthday. But also because this time last year, I received a special present on the very day of my birthday: Covid. The real tragedy was not that I had to quarantine for two weeks. It was that I had lost my taste and couldn’t fully appreciate my birthday dessert right after blowing out its candles. And, even more so, that I missed almost an entire season of polishing off a bite-size Mont Blanc with my morning coffee.
My top three spots where you can find this bonanza of deliciousness are at Pasticceria Marinari, Pasticceria Mondi and Il Cigno, all of which are in Northern Rome.
But, my absolute favorite morning or afternoon treat is featured in the below photograph in the mini-Mont Blanc at Il Cigno. It’s small enough to feel less sinful. Really, how much damage can one American chocolate chip cookie, one French maccaron or one Portugese pasteis de nata really do?
And a mini-Mont Blanc from Il Cigno? Niente. It’s pure heaven, and teeny-weeny. Isn’t it all about portion control anyway? While devouring it at this Parioli bar, you can continue to salivate while watching a video of pastry chefs making it. The movie reel runs all day on a screen right above the counter as if replaying the best goals of a soccer match.
If I were in the States right now, I’d have to embrace pumpkin spice, the latest sprinkling in American food that has infiltrated coffee, bagels, muffins, ice cream, yogurt, beer, and even dog kibble.
But, here, all I can think about is how I can get those light, whipped-cream-coated meringues and chestnut mousse into my tummy. I’m consoled that I can find it on a quick walk around the block with my dog.
I haven’t ever made the dessert, which requires a patience and talent I reserve only for the finest chefs. Sneaking away to hunt down this bomba (or shall we just call it a bombetta?) is one of my favorite things about the holiday season in Rome.
I’m confessing this here not so you’ll help me break my habit (I’ll assign you to that in January). For now, I suggest that you try one, and that we all give thanks for a Mont Blanc at Thanksgiving.
Not even top chefs talk about the diplomacy of desserts so magnificently. Love the read! Vikki
Che meraviglia! Piace tanto anche a me! Ce lo mangiamo presto insieme!