The Romanengo family have been handmaking sweets and desserts for eight generations in the same beautiful historic store in the port town of Genoa, using the same techniques and seasonal natural raw ingredients. The Pietro Romanengo shop on Via Soziglia is a secret small jewel of the Genoa historical centre and is the very same it was the day of its opening in 1814. Rosie Meleady speaks to the owner on this sweet success.
Every year in the factory of Romanengo, between the spring and the summer, all other activities cease as the factory becomes completely dedicated to the processing of fresh roses. As the rose petals are manually separated, their fragrance spreads throughout the workshop.
The rose syrup produced is made by craftspeople using only Gallic roses, moss roses and rugosa roses from Genoese gardens carefully organically grown. The delicate syrup is bottled and sold as a tonic and in the creation of water ices, pancakes, cocktails and herbal tea infusions.
The Pietro Romanengo shop’s history began in Genoa in 1780 when Antonio Maria Romanengo opened a colonial spice shop close to the port in the historical part of the old city centre. It became a confectionary shop in 1814 and it has been combining sweetness and history ever since.
Over the centuries the Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano company has remained faithful to the true meaning of a confectioner’s shop – a workshop where fruit, flowers, aromas and natural colours are worked with sugar using the original recipe books and the Genoese art of candying. Their handmade sweet production follows the seasonal nature of fresh products creating candied fruit, fruit and flower preserves and jams, chocolates, bonbons, dragées (confetti) and dessert pastries.
“Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano has two prestigious Genoese shops. One, decorated with wooden furniture inside and adorned with marble high relief sculptures on the outside façade, has been recognised as cultural heritage by the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism,” explains Mr Pietro Romanengo, the owner and manager, who shares the name of the shop founded by his ancestors.
Cocoa, sugar, flowers and fruit mix to give life to refined desserts, unique for their flavour, creating an almost forgotten taste. This trademark of excellence has grown the appeal of Italy’s oldest confectioner’s shop’s products internationally including in the US, Japan and various parts of Europe. Pietro feels this is partly down to a revival. “Today we are living a revival of what is traditional and natural, expressed in many aspects of life and also in the research of products that seemed to have been bypassed. This is the art of the confectioner: keeping nature’s products and imitating their appearance and taste with skilful sugar productions.”
Dragée and Confetti
Dragée are the sugar-coated sweets most commonly known as ‘confetti’ favours for weddings.
The term dragée is used to describe various types of ‘centre’: almond, pine nut, pistachio, cordial, candied orange peel, cinnamon and aniseed. All of these are coated in sugar. The difficulty lies in coating the centres with pure sugar; only by hand-mixing tiny quantities with the utmost care and dexterity is it possible to produce the tender, crisp and delicate dragées mentioned in age-old recipes.
“Our speciality, the white dragées for weddings, are made with Avola almonds from Sicily; the seed coat which gives the almonds their unique flavour is left intact. The colour of the coating of this sugar-frosted dried fruit is not very white because it excludes any addition of starch, blue colour and waxes, but the results are delicious,” enthuses Pietro.
Around the time the confectionary shop started, chocolate began to become popular in Europe and it was soon added to the recipe books.
“We work the cocoa paste the old way with granite stones. The chocolate is constantly beaten for three days and three nights so that these delicious specialities can be made: filled chocolates, ‘old style’ chocolates with orange peel, hazelnut, mint, candied fruit, rum chocolates and cherry liquor chocolates.
Pietro continues, “the fondant-filled chocolates follow the original sketches of the ancient family recipe books. The shapes of these delights contribute to exalting their consistency, contrasting the crunchiness of the chocolate coating with a soft and creamy heart. In Pietro Romanengo’s chocolate there is no soy lecithin, only cocoa, sugar and cocoa butter. Delicious and freshly made chocolates filled with a heart of fondant, with the scents of rose, violet and mint, crowned with candied petals and leaves of mint.”