In the list of wonderful, accidental finds we have made for the shop, few rival the discovery of Italian confectioners, Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano. On a trip to northern Italy, Ihsan and Valerie were strolling the labyrinthine streets of old Genova when they stumbled across a fantastical, gem-like little shop.
Since 1780, the Romanengo family has been dispensing handmade candies from this beautiful shop with its marble walls, glass shelves and rich wooden cases. Crystal receptacles are filled with confetti-colored candied fennel seeds, threads of sugar-coated cinnamon, sweet fruit fondants, chewy rosewater marshmallows and tiny pastiglie. On his first visit, Ihsan bought some treats to take home and each parcel was painstaking wrapped in dark blue tissue-like paper and tied with a Genovese sailors knot. Since that trip, we have been importing directly from Romanengo and several staff members have made the pilgrimage to Genova themselves!
A Little History: The Makings of an Italian Confectioner
Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano, was founded by Antonio Maria Romanengo, initially as a colonial goods and drug store. Stefano, one of Antonio Maria’s sons, secured a diploma in confectionery from the University of Genova and opened the Via Soziglia store where the company still retains a shop front.
In turn, Stefano’s son, Pietro, registered the company as “Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano” and designed the company’s distinctive dove and olive branch logo. The logo was intended as a symbol of peace in the wake of the Napoleonic wars. Pietro also introduced the beautiful blue paper packaging used to wrap Ihsan’s parcels.
Gradually, the reputation of the Romanengo family’s confections began to spread – beyond Genova and beyond the borders of Italy. Among the company’s earlier customers was Giuseppe Verdi. His letters discussing Romanengo’s candied fruits are kept in the La Scala museum.
Another high point for the company was the 1868 marriage of Prince Umberto to Margherita of Savoy when an order was placed for, “candied fruit, demi-sucres, elegant bonbons and small metal bonbonières decorated with pastilles.”
Romanengo today is similar in size to what it was in the late 19th century. The company is run by cousins Paolo, Pietro, Giovanni Battista and Delfina Romanengo. They employ only 24 full-time staff members. Their commitment to small-production is consistent with the strong emphasis that the Romanengo family places on craftsmanship and preserving longstanding confectionery traditions.
Whole Candied Fruits: Gems of the Holiday Table
Among the items we import from Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano are chocolate bars, fruit fondants and rose preserves. At this time of year, we supplement those items with a small selection of their special candied fruits. Each year, Tim consults with Delfina to prepare our order and, invariably, he puts the candied fruit selection entirely in her hands. He says, “Delfina knows our tastes and she knows which fruits are best at that moment.” Typical selections include candied apricot halves, peach halves, whole plums, figs and loquats as well as whole clementines – perfect orbs of glistening orange that ooze sugary sweetness when cut in half.
Each type of fruit is given its own sugar syrup bath so the flavors of the fruits are not mixed and each flavor remains distinct. The fruits are gently cooked at a low temperature in the sugar syrup so that the sugar is gradually absorbed into the fruit to complete the candying process. This delicate process can take up to two weeks. Just prior to sale, the candied fruits are glacéed – carefully submerged in another sugar syrup, then quickly drained and allowed to dry. The final product is a perfectly preserved fruit with all of its ripe flavors in a perfect, delicate sugar crust.
The fruits can be enjoyed on their own, but we also like them paired with a variety of our cheeses. Past favorites have included fine pieces of candied clementine blended with lightly warmed ricotta or thin slices of candied fig paired with a fresh chèvre or a bit of the candied plum paired with a ripe Stilton. Each fruit offers its own wonderful possibilities!