Yesterday, Christine and I were having caffe and chatting in the kitchen of Casa San Marcos when a friend of the owner dropped by. As she left, she mentioned that it was the Festival of Santa Margherita, which happens every Feb. 22 in Cortona. "Go up to the church," she said. So we did.There were lots of vendors, mostly selling candies and balloons (which isn't exactly what I had pictured to honor a saint, but hey, we all have our own process, don't we??). After Christine and I went into the church and paid our respects to the remains of St. Margaret (her 800-year-old corpse is viewable behind a glass case - no really, it is), we toured the candy vendors until we settled on one.
Now, you must know that in the US, I would never even consider nougat as a candy option. I am a die-hard dark chocolate lover and have always shied away from the sickeningly sweet, hard-as-a-brick nougat candies, no matter how adorable the packaging is. But here, where nougat is known as torrone, they were presented as huge mountains of nougat enveloped in thick slabs of chocolate. There were different enticing flavors, too, like nutella, straciatella, noci (walnut)... And they were presented alongside similarly large mounds of fudge (in flavors like tiramisu and limoncello... really!).
I think it was about 10:30 am. I think we'd had yogurt or eggs for breakfast and likely a lot of espresso. I think we probably could have waited another hour or two and eaten a nice, light lunch. But you know what happened next.
We bought two huge chunks of candy - for about 15 euros (just over $20). Now, if you know me well, you know that I tend to avoid large quantities of refined sugar. I'd like to report that I had a small sample of the straciatella nougat and spat it out on the parking lot of Chiesa di Santa Margherita. But I didn't. It was light, airy, sticky-chewy like a just-made marshmallow, and encrusted in a dark chocolate shell. The fudge (we bought a walnut version) was equally stellar - melt-in-your-bocca delicious.
I'm not proud of this, but we proceeded to gorge until... well, until my blood sugar was at a rollercoaster high. I was nearly hallucinating that the lichen-covered stone wall on the path around Cortona was just a large, delectable hunk of nougat. I laughed and ate nougat and laughed and ate fudge and laughed...
We hiked down around the hill, back up through Cortona proper and up a steep cobblestone hill to Casa San Marcos, where I spent the rest of the day rehydrating myself and waiting to sleep. I finally passed out on the couch during "Napoleon Dynamite" and woke up to the bells of San Francesco and the glittering lights of Camucia below us. With the promise of a new day, I vowed to ignore the remaining chunks of nougat and fudge.
Until I reached the kitchen.
Ah, to hell with it. When in Italy...