NEW YORK (Reuters) - Restaurants and cooking schools are pairing chocolate with ingredients as surprising as beets, goat cheese and lasagna noodles to bring an entirely different taste to the dessert menu.
From the white chocolate and goat cheese at the wd-50 restaurant in New York City, to the baked pizza dough dessert at the Queen Margherita Trattoria in Nutley, New Jersey, chocolate is getting a makeover.
"Oh wow, awesome!" said Kelly Horn, 24, of Darien, Connecticut, as she dug into a mound of baked pasta and Baci, the Italian candy whose name means "kiss," at a chocolate cooking class at Eataly, a Manhattan food bazaar.
"I was intrigued. I've never really seen chocolate used that way," said her boyfriend, Neal Siegrist, 24, a food fanatic and financial trader who enrolled the couple in the class, run by the Italian chocolate maker Perugina's La Scuola del Cioccolato, which is based in Perugia, Italy.
With an eggplant in one hand and a bar of chocolate in the other, food historian Francine Segan told the class that since chocolate is derived from the seed-like cocoa bean, its flavor can be pulled in different directions.
"Chocolate is not sweet until you add sugar," Segan told her 30 students. "If you have 100 percent chocolate, it can go either way, to the sweet or the savory."
The unusual dessert creations have centuries-old roots that date to when Christopher Columbus brought home chocolate to the Old World and cooks tried to stretch the precious import with less expensive local ingredients, like the chick peas that grow abundantly in Italy.
"Chick peas have that wonderful creaminess that doesn't take away from the chocolate," Segan said as she prepared a chocolate chick pea dessert ravioli.
Less sweet than many desserts, the odd-couple pairings largely keep chocolate flavors in check, which was just fine for Cate Liguori, 27, and her mother Stephanie Sands, 59, who lives near the American chocolate capital, Hershey, Pennsylvania.
"I liked them more than I expected because they weren't super chocolatety," said Liguori, a fashion buyer.
Sands, an accountant, said, "It was something so unexpected, something you had to alter your taste buds for."
Adventurous stay-at-home cooks who forage for ideas online can find recipes for chocolate dessert lasagna, chocolate-beet cake and a chocolate zucchini roll on such sites as FoodNetwork.com and Epicurious.com.
Segan keeps chocolate in her kitchen spice cabinet to wield in unexpected ways while cooking dessert.
"Chocolate has that earthiness that goes wonderfully with the eggplant's neutral canvas," Segan explained to the sold-out class.
"Is it sweet enough?" she asked as Grace Palumbo, 59, a media consultant from Toronto visiting New York with friends, took an exploratory bite.
"It's perfect," Palumbo said.
Editing by Patricia Reaney; editing by John Wallace