Along with pasta, olive oil, and wine, I think you could also add "breakfast pastries" to the list of "Things Italy Has Down Pat." The typical Italian breakfast does after all consist of a coffee and something sweet, and Italy has thus risen to the occasion, boasting a wide selection of morning treats, including, but not limited to: the buttery, chocolate-studded saccottino, the sugar-dusted bombolone, the cream-filled maritozzo, the jammy crostata, and, most popular of them all, the cornetto, aka the sweeter cousin of the French croissant.
A good cornetto is a beautiful thing, possessing a flaky, slightly buttery exterior -- so flaky in fact that a flurry of crumbs are bound to shower whatever surface you're eating over -- that contrasts with its cloud-like interior, which is sometimes filled with a dollop of Nutella or jam. Lucky for me, the cafe in my workplace is right down the hall from my office, and the cornetti happen to be top-knotch (my usual choice is the integrale or whole-grain cornetto, which means, or so I tell myself, that it's actually lighter than the average cornetto, prominent butter flavor be damned). It's a yummy breakfast-on-the-go for the days where you hit the snooze button one time too many, portable and easily eaten at your desk, if need be (just be sure to sweep away the aforementioned inevitable crumbs).
But this is the thing, you guys: as much as I love cornetti, I'd be lying if I said our relationship was perfect. They're not among the most nutritious breakfast items in the world, all superficial buttery deliciousness without much substance or depth, and I don't think I'm alone in saying that they leave you hungry an hour or two after consuming one.
A homemade granola bar, on the other hand -- though a lot less glamorous than an Italian cornetto -- could just very well be the answer to your breakfast-on-the-go prayers, a healthy yet quick option for the "I should have left for work 10 minutes ago" crowd or those who simply have resolved to eat a little better this year. While they might not have the decadence factor of a breakfast pastry, they're yummy and delicious in their own virtuous way, packed with sweet dates and oats and almonds that keep you full, tinged with salty peanut butter and honey, soft and chewy save the pleasant crunchiness from the almonds. They take only a few minutes to make, and unlike store-bought bars, are free of corn syrup and added sugar, made with only five (yes five!) ingredients. And if you've got the healthy breakfast thing down, but struggle after lunch -- no worries, these make a good 3pm snack too (I speak from experience).
A couple of notes: If you want to make things really healthy, feel free to use all-natural peanut butter or even almond butter (I used crunch Skippy peanut butter with good results). You can use maple syrup or agave nectar in place of the honey, if you'd like. Use the stickiest freshest dates you can find -- if you use really dry ones, the bars won't hold together as well. Finally, you can store these in an airtight container for up to a few days, or keep them in the freezer with good results. Sorry for the lack of step-by-step photos, but I made these on a Tuesday night and photographed them the following morning before work!
5-INGREDIENT GRANOLA BARS
1 heaping cup packed (220 g) dates, pitted
1/4 cup (84 g) honey
1/4 cup (64 g) peanut butter, smooth or crunchy
1 cup (112 g) unsalted almonds, chopped
1 1/2 cups (135 g) rolled oats
Toast your oats and almonds on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, or until slightly golden brown. Place in a bowl and set aside. Note that this step is optional, I happen to like the toasted flavor of the almonds and oatmeal but feel free to skip if you want!
Process the dates in a food processor for about 1 minutes, or until it forms a "dough" like consistency and rolls in to a ball. Add this to the same bowl as the oats and almonds.
Next, stir together the honey and peanut butter in a small saucepan over low heat until melted and well combined. Pour the peanut butter and honey mixture over the oat, almond, and date mixture and stir well, using the spoon to break up and spread the dates around.
Once everything is well mixed, transfer your granola bar "dough" to an 8x8-inch baking dish lined with plastic wrap or parchment paper (I used aluminum foil with no problems). Using a drinking glass, press the mixture down until it is flattened and compact -- make sure you really pack the bars together so they stay intact when you cut them. Cover the granola bars with parchment or plastic wrap, and let firm up in fridge or freezer for 15-20 minutes. Remove the square of granola from the pan (just lift out the aluminum foil/parchment paper/plastic wrap) and transfer it to a cutting board. Cut in to 10 bars and serve.