I'd spotted the Hotel Chocolat Penne Cocoa Pasta in a store before. It caught my eye as it was something unusual. I didn't pick it up though. Next I saw it featured in a TV programme (it might have been something with Nigella in it) and then on a trip to Venice I went hunting for some novelty pasta from its true birthplace. Surprisingly I couldn't find any so when I next went into a Hotel Chocolat store I grabbed a pack off the shelves to try it out.
The 250g bag worked out a £20 a kilogram. Compared to a supermarket price for plain value penne of 60p a kilogram or £2 a kilo for a branded version you can understand my hesitance at trying this particular product.
Nevertheless, you only live once so I gave it a go.
On the back of the packaging was a recipe for Salmon and Mascarpone Cocoa Pasta. I'd only ever heard about chocolate going well with chilli so thought I'd save the recipe for another occasion.
I boiled the chocolate pasta as directed for around 10 minutes until it was cooked, noting that the pasta had turned the water chocolaty.
I plated up, had a go at being "chefy" (failing miserably as you can see from the photo below) and tucked in. I should point out the following photos aren't as pretty as if I'd just gone with the smoked salmon dish in the first place!
My initial reaction was surprise. I expected the flavour to be intense and sweet. Instead it was a very subtle flavour very easily dominated by the chilli. In hindsight it perhaps wasn't the best combination to try the pasta with.
The pasta itself was very tasty. On it's own in tasted like normal pasta but with a hint of Hotel Chocolat flavour. It was very distinctively HC cocoa rather than another brand or generic cocoa. The taste of a delicious dark chocolate truffle could almost be detected.
Buoyed by the pleasant taste of the pasta I did go on to make a batch of home made cocoa pasta which was a bit of a palaver. I tried the salmon recipe which worked like a treat. My top tips here would be (1) buy the pasta as it's far less fuss and (2) buy the best fresh ingredients. Most of my cooking is done on the cheap (cue the violin) as I live within my means. That said, I don't mind splashing out on certain produce if I can scrimp elsewhere. For this particular recipe I found a deal on the finest of Scottish smoked salmon and this made a huge difference to the result.
So would I buy the cocoa pasta again? It's not for everyday use so it won't replace my 3 kilo sacks of pasta shapes anytime soon, but the taste is certainly pleasant and distinctive. I probably wouldn't place an order for pasta on it's own but I would have no hesitation in ordering a bag again with a bigger order. Having just looked at the website there are several interesting products on offer - cocoa mayonnaise, cocoa pesto, white chocolate horseradish, creole chutney, cocoa balsamic and cocoa and chilli finishing oil, perfect for coming with an order for more pasta. I'm off to drool some more...
Disclosure: I paid £5 for a bag of Hotel Chocolat Penne Cocoa Pasta and wasn't asked for a review.