Category Archives: biscuits and biscotti

what remains

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One morning at about 9 it crossed my mind that I might actually live at the noisiest point on one of the noisiest streets in Rome. A queue of morning traffic, engines low but persistent, crawled along via Galvani, horns sounding indignantly at roadworks, traffic lights and i motorini who seemed to taunt the crawl with their cheeky weaving. A fire engine, siren waling, burst from the station on the corner, split traffic and sped past our window, while a pair of road-sweeping-rubbish-crunching vehicles went about their daily business slowly and loudly. Inside, my son, incensed that he wasn’t allowed smarties for breakfast, lay on the floor howling.

Dressed hurriedly and still shuddering with the last gasping sobs, we joined the fray on Via Galvani, which now included some argy-bargy over double parking, blasphemous insults being thrown back and forth like a ball. We bought two squares of hot pizza bianca from Guerrini and then walked past the fire station, down via Marmorata and into the cemetery to visit a poet and count cats.

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In a crook of the ancient city wall, The Protestant or Non-Catholic Cemetery is an easy place to overlook. Which you might consider a good thing. But then you would miss the epitome of a secret garden just minutes from the chaos, a serene sanctuary of grass, gravel paths and graves, some of which rest under marbled-feathered angel wings. It’s a place that manages to be both bright and shady, overhung with umbrella pines and cypresses and heavy with the tangled scent of jasmine, oleander and plumbago.

Forbidden by catholic laws, protestants and other non-catholics have been buried on this site for hundreds of years. However the cemetery was only formally defined by the Holy See in 1821. It was also in 1821 that the young English poet John Keats, after three months in Rome seeking a better climate for his worsening tuberculosis, died and was buried in the cemetery. Two years later the reckless Percy Bysshe Shelley, having drowned at sea, was also buried in the cemetery, as was the son of Goethe;  the Russian painter Karl Brullov and Antonio Gramsci, the founder of the Italian Communist Party. Here are the graves of protestants, orthodox christians, jews, muslims, atheists and agnostics, the graves of writers, painters, sculptors, historians, archaeologists, diplomats, scientists, architects and poets whose tomb inscriptions are engraved in more than fifteen languages.

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Sitting on a bench, counting cats in the sweet calm and unlikely November sun, I realised it was the 2nd of November, All Souls’ Day, The Day of the Dead and I was in a cemetery. An egalitarian cemetery in which the most eclectic and creative, often young, sometimes reckless, occasionally revolutionary group of people are buried, many of them non-Italian’s (and often English) who made their home in Italy. We went to visit Keats where I managed four lines of Ode to Autumn, then Shelly, where I managed three of Ozymandias, before realising my son was attempting to climb on top of a tomb. We said goodbye to as many souls as we could, crunched through the gravel – which is hilarious if you are two – and left the calm for the noise – which had subsided – once more.

Later the same day baking fave dolci or sweet beans, felt appropriate too, after all, the ritual of offering fave (broad beans) as solace for visiting souls on the 2nd of November dates back to pre-christian times. Over time the fave offered evolved into sweet biscuits called fave dolci or fave dei morti. Which aren’t actually fave at all, but crisp almond biscuits, aromatised with citrus or cinnamon and dusted with icing sugar to look like fave, or little bones, hence the other name ossi di morti. A sweet treat for visiting souls and a reminder of family joy and sorrow.

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They are simple to make. Having pound almonds and fine sugar into dusty crumbs, you add butter, an egg, the zest of a lemon and just enough flour to bring everything together into a sticky dough. Very sticky, don’t worry! Then with well-floured hands you temper a spoonful of the dough first into a ball and then – on a well-floured board – a log. You then cut the log into short lengths, move them onto a lined baking tray and then press each piece gently in the center, ostensibly making it look like a fave. Once the fave dolci are baked, you dust them with icing sugar.

Fave dolci are crisp but with the soft, round flavour of toasted almond and the distinct note of citrus, from the, um, citrus zest. They are a little heavier than amaretti – which is the small quantity of flour – but are still light, brittle enough to shatter between your teeth and then melt in your mouth. They are good with an espresso and please – if not all – most souls on most days.

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Fave dolci (almond beans)

Adapted from The Brilliant Food of Rome and Lazio by Oretta Zanini De Vita

  • 100 g almonds
  • 100g fine sugar
  • 80 g plain flour plus more for dusting
  • the zest of a large unwaxed lemon
  • 25 g butter (at room temperature)
  • 1 medium egg

Using a pestle and mortar or blender, crush or pulse the sugar and almond into a fine flour. Transfer to a bowl and then add the flour, butter, zest and eggs and using a spoon bring the mixture together into a sticky dough. Do not be tempted to add more flour at this point, the mixture should be sticky.

With well-floured hands break the dough into 6 pieces and then on a well floured board roll each piece into a 2 cm thick cylinder and then cut each cylinder into 2 cm long sections. Press each piece with the tip of your index finger so they look like fave and then arrange them on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180° / 350F for 20 minutes or until the biscuits are just pale golden. Allow to cool and dust with icing sugar.

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If you are coming to Rome, I highly recommend a visit to the Non-Catholic Cemetery. Try and get there as early as possible (it opens at nine) and you could well have the place all to yourself. Also if you understand Italian, Alesandro Rubinetti and Teatro Reale organise excellent and evocative walking tours of the cemetery.

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q.b.

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I was too confused and cross to appreciate anything. It was Monday at 6 o’clock and I was late and lost, fooled again by the exaggerated curves of the Tevere river, staggering with an oversized child in an undersized sling down another cobbled street, in the shadow of another cupola, past another ancient fountain. The man at the bus stop shook his head and made a gesture that confirmed I was – as suspected – a long way from where I wanted to be. No directions were forthcoming. Mad dog Englishwoman tourist his eyes seemed to snigger. ‘I’ve lived here for nearly nine years‘ I wanted to tell him, only every single word of Italian eluded me.

Relief at finding myself on Via del Corso was short-lived. In front of me was the bus stop from which I’d caught the first of two ill-advised buses an hour before. The sun beat down and Luca beat his hot little hands on my chest. So we walked some more, wading really, against a tide of shoppers and tourists. ‘You want the 116‘ said a kind woman at another bus stop. ‘I know, I’ve lived here for nine years, I take buses everyday.‘ I wanted to tell her, but grazie was all I could manage.

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The 116, a dwarf bus, bumped along Via del Babuino, women with expensive shoes and immaculate toe nails teetered on so I tucked my shabby ones under the seat. We stopped just after Piazza di Spagna and there it was, Europe’s broadest staircase and another mass of bodies, shopping bags and blinking cameras. ‘Get off here‘ said the kind woman. ‘But walk up the other staircase just behind. Which we did, and at last I appreciated something. That was the cool, quiet, stone steps and the fact that we, just meters away from busiest staircase in Europe, had our own private one. Not as marvelous obviously, but in that moment nearly. Villa Medici took me by surprise, looming grandly as it does over Viale Trinità dei Monti. As did the deep purple blossoms pouring over walls and then, as we walked a little further, the view.

Nearly nine years ago on a similar evening the view from the Pincio had made my heart swell and skin flush. It had also made me cry. It happened again yesterday. Which was partly the sense of relief that we were no longer lost, that I was no longer flipping furious. But mostly it was because the view across Rome from that particular point at that particular hour : a hazy patchwork of terracotta, brown and gold, of gleaming cupolas, uneven tiles, fading palazzi, hidden roof gardens and the distant plateau of Janiculum with its shadowed umbrella pines is so sublime.  ‘Mamma, mummy, mamma, look, look!‘ Luca insisted while tugging at my shirt, his eyes full of wonder. ‘Look mamma, dog!‘ A large dog, leg cocked, was relieving himself against the kerb. At which we turned and walked briskly – our Tupperware box of biscuits keeping time – across Villa Borghese to the picnic party.

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Fortunately Ciambelline al vino are hardy biscuits that happily withstand hours of inept traveling and a brisk jolt across the park. They are also particular – as only a biscuit made with olive oil with fennel seeds can be – and delicious – as only a biscuit made with wine intended to be dipped in wine can be. Last but not least, they are quintessentially Roman (which is my preoccupation these days) and a good recipe with which to mention q.b.

Q.b. means quantobasta which literally translated means how much is enough. Or as Vincenzo puts it: what you think is the right quantity. You find q.b. dotted liberally throughout Italian recipes, the older your book or more southern your travels the more you encounter it. It isn’t a question, but an assumption that you know how much whatever – salt, pepper, flour, oil, wine, sugar, fennel seeds, salt – is enough for the recipe concerned according to your particular taste. It’s an assumption that you have good taste, good instincts and/or that the recipe is good enough for you to make it again and again until q.b is second nature.

Unlike some recipes I’ve bookmarked in which every single ingredient is followed by q.b. at least today’s recipe has measurements of sorts. That is: a glass of wine (red, white or fortified), a glass of extra virgin olive oil and a glass of sugar. The size of the glass is – of course – the one you think is right. I used my trusty 100ml duralex. To your pool of sugar, wine and oil you add salt and fennel seeds. A pinch and a teaspoon seemed the right quantity to me. Then you add the flour q.b. , little by little, working it in with your hands until the dough has come together into a manageable mass that comes cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. You will know.

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You let the dough rest – an hour or so – then you pull away walnut sized balls, roll them into a slim logs which you then curl into rings. A pinch helps seal the circle. You dip your rings in sugar before arranging them on a baking tray and sliding them into the oven until they are done. That is crisp and golden. In my oven (which of course is different to your oven) this took 25 minutes. I then took my friend Anna’s advice turned the oven off , opened the door a crack but left the Ciambelline al vino to harden in the cooling oven. All the better for dipping in wine she noted.

I am not going to try and convince you otherwise, if you don’t like the distinctive taste of fennel seeds you won’t like these Ciambelline. Of course you can leave the seeds out! But without the sweet, grassy, anise whiplash they are – in my opinion – as lost as I was on Monday at 6 o’clock. I’ve heard you can substitute wine with milk! But why would you want to do that?

Somewhere between utterly sweet and charming, and hard work and curious, ciambelline al vino are ring biscuits made with wine to dip in wine – I think this just about sums it up. Unsurprisingly I adore them. They keep brilliantly in a tin or box.

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Ciambelline al vino Ring biscuits with wine and fennel seeds

Adapted from various recipes but most notably one by the brilliant cucina di calycanthus

makes about 20 biscuits

  • 1 glass of sugar
  • 1 glass of wine (white, red or fortified wine such as Madeira)
  • 1 glass of extra virgin olive oil
  • salt q.b
  • fennel seeds q.b
  • plain flour q.b
  • sugar for finishing q.b

In a bowl mix together the sugar, olive oil and wine. Add the salt and fennel seeds and then flour q.b a little at a time, mixing with your hands, until you have a soft but manageable dough that comes cleanly away from the sides of the bowl.

Move the dough onto a board dusted lightly with flour and then work until smooth. Cover and leave the dough to rest for an hour.

Pull walnut sized pieces from the dough and then on a floured board, with floured hands, roll the balls into slim logs that are roughly 8 – 10 cm long.  Curl each log into a round and pinch the ends so you have a ring. Invert and dip the top of each ring into a dish of sugar so it is well coated.

Arrange the rings on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Bake at 180° for 25 – 30 minutes or until the rings are golden and crisp.  Allow to cool.

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A good combination.

 

It seemed pretty exotic that first tin of Amaretti biscuitsGranted, not as darkly exotic as the turkish delight studded with pistachios or the bag of curious smelling, ochre-coloured powder in the top drawer of the dresser. But back then, 1982 I suppose, in the days when you couldn’t buy everything everywhere, in our very English kitchen, a large red tin of Italian Amaretti seemed exotic. Thrilling too! Not only because if its size and nature: an extremely large tin of sugary biscuits to be prised open after ‘special‘ dinners during which adults would undoubtedly consume far too much alcohol to give a fig about exercising any kind of portion control, but because of the wrappers.

You see, we soon agreed that the best thing about Amaretti biscuits were the wrappers. Not that the Amaretti themselves –  delicate, crisp domes that shattered and then melted in your mouth – weren’t good! They were. But it was the thin paper wrapping twisted around each pair, that made us, the 1o-year-old, 8-year-old and 5-year-old Roddy children especially giddy. For this paper meant matches and playing with fire. Playing with fire at the table, under the unwatchful eye of inebriated adults. For this paper, if rolled up neatly but not too tight, placed on a plate and then set alight at the top, would burn and then the delicate paper skeleton would waft towards the ceiling before the charred fragments fluttered back down on our upturned faces.

Riding on a wave of nostalgia, I considered buying the largest tin of Lazzaroni Amaretti di Saronno from Castroni, investing in an equally large box of matches and passing the rest of the afternoon flirting with type 2 diabetes and a domestic fire. The small child clamped to my chest and the contents of my purse jolted me back to my senses and I compromised with the rather more modest box containing more than enough Amaretti to keep my post lunch espresso company for the week and my peach and Amaretti plans.

Amaretti, are small, domed Italian macaroons made from sweet and bitter almonds or apricot kernels mixed with fine sugar and egg whites. The name Amaretti means ‘Little bitter ones‘ as the bitter almonds or apricot kernels lend these exquisite little biscuits a flick of bitterness and an intensely almondy flavor which enhances and tempers the sweet almonds and sugar. Italians are immensely fond of their Amaretti, dipping them into their espresso, their sweet wine or liquore and crumbling them into both sweet and savory dishes.

Almost every region of Italy has their own particular kind of Amaretti which – depending on the proportions of the ingredients and the baking time – has its own characteristics. It’s quite extraordinary to see how varying the ratio of sweet and bitter almonds, the sugar and the eggs can produce such distinctly different Amaretti. Some are pale, soft and fudgy. Others are darker, speckled really and properly chewy. I bought a packet of Amaretti in Sardegna which were light as-a-feather and reminiscent of meringues. They can be dry and crumbly or – like the most famous Amaretti from Saronno in northern Italy - crisp, brittle domes the colour of toffee that shatter and then melt in your mouth.

And it’s these brittle domes – and of course their wrappers – I wanted. The sweet but deliciously bitter Amaretti di Saronno, made – as they have been since 1718 – from fine sugar, beaten egg whites and ground apricot kernels. The Amaretti which – unsurprisingly given the apricot kernels – have a lovely affinity and pleasing symmetry with another stone fruit, one that is pretty luscious right now: the peach.

You could of course eat your Amaretti or six with a perfectly ripe peach just so. Better still, you could dip your Amaretti and slices of peach in a glass of desert wine, ideally sitting at a long table in the dappled shade of a chestnut tree in Piemonte, alternatively at a long red table in a very hot and claustrophobic flat in central Rome. But best of all, you could do as the Piedmontese do and crush some of your Amaretti and use them to make Pesche Ripiene (stuffed peaches.)

And so, having washed and dried your peaches, you cut them in half, wriggle the stones out and scoop away any bits of stone or hard flesh from the hollows with a teaspoon before setting the halves, cut side up, in well buttered dish. Well buttered, well buttered, I’d like to be well buttered. Then in a small bowl, you mash together the butter – you have remembered to leave out in the kitchen so it’s soft – sugar, 6 crushed Amaretti, an egg yolk and a hefty pinch of lemon zest. Finally you divide this sandy coloured cream between the hollows of the peaches.

Your peaches need about 40 minutes in the oven. You on the other hand need to put your feet up for 40 minutes with a cup of tea or glass of prosecco depending on the hour (I think 5 o clock is about the right time for the-change-of-beverage-guard at this time of year! Unless of course you are making lunch, in which case 11 o clock is a perfectly acceptable time to pop a cork.) You could baste the peaches a couple of times, but it’s not essential. The peaches are ready when they are soft, tender and starting to collapse slightly, the flesh should be golden and slightly wrinkled and the stuffing blistering and crisp on top. Allow the peaches to sit – as always this is vital – for at least half an hour after coming out of the oven so the flavors can settle and  fruit wallow in the buttery, sugary juices.

When the time comes, serve each person two halves, making sure to spoon some of the sticky, buttery juices from the bottom of the dish over the peaches. As you hand each person their plate ask them to wait. Then, lead by example and spoon a large dollop of mascarpone on top of each half and then carefully unwrap your Amaretti – remember there is playing with fire to come! – and crumble the crisp domes over the white loveliness. Encourage guests to follow suit.

Eat and note how the tender, baked peach flesh, the butter laden/slightly almondy/distinctly lemony stuffing, the thick and dastardly good marcarpone and the brittle topping come together into a pretty glorious whole and then mumble (full mouth is forgivable) ‘What a good combination.’

I think these peaches are best about 45 minutes after coming out of the oven, so they are just still a little warm and the sticky juices are thick but spoonable. Having said that, I made a tray for a supper last week and they sat for about 5 hours before we ate them! They were room temperature and superb. If you do keep them overnight, keep them in the fridge, but remember to pull them out about half-an-hour before eating. I also like a two halves for breakfast with greek yogurt.

Pesche Ripiene. Stuffed peaches.

The seed for baked peaches planted by Jess. This recipe adapted from Claudia Roden’s Recipe (which in turn was taken from Sergio Torelli’s recipe) in one of my very favorite cook books’ The Food of Italy.’

serves 4

  • 4 ripe peaches
  • 50 g soft butter plus more for buttering the dish
  • 50 g soft brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Amaretti biscuits
  • a hefty pinch of the zest of a unwaxed lemon

To serve

  • Mascarpone
  • More Amaretti biscuits for crumbling

Set your oven to 180° / 350F

Wash the peaches and rub them dry. Cut peaches in half, remove the stone and then use a teaspoon to scoop away any hard flesh or fragments of stone that might be left in the hollow. Arrange the peach halves cut-side-up in a buttered oven dish.

Wrap the Amaretti in some paper or put them in a small plastic bag and then crush them using a rolling-pin. In a small bowl mash together the butter, sugar, crushed Amaretti, egg yolk and lemon zest. Spoon a walnut sized blob of this mixture into the hollows of each peach half.

Bake for 40 minutes – basting a couple of times – or until the fruit is tender, golden and a little wrinkled at the edges. Allow the peaches for sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.  Serve with mascarpone and more Amaretti for crumbling.

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Pasticcini di mandorle

When I was travelling, or rather, roaming around Sicily on my slightly demented and not very grand tour, I became quite besotted with, amongst other edible things, the little, soft, almond biscuits, the pasticcini di mandorle you find in almost every bakery (forno) or pasticceria. For about a month, everyday at about 5 o’clock, as the shops began to roll back their shutters and unlock their doors after the long lunch break and the hottest hours of the day, I would seek out and then purchase my daily dose of almond. Clutching my small paper bag, I’d go and buy myself an almond granita before finding the nearest wall, ledge, bench to perch on, and inhale my double almond merenda. I then discovered cannoli and my affections shifted, but that’s another post.

The shape and texture of the Pasticcini di mandorle varied from place to place, oven to oven. Some were smaller and sticky, a marzipan sweet really, others more of a biscuit. But most pasticcini di mandorle I ate, were slightly crisp and cracked on the outside, then inside soft and dense giving way to a sticky and almost chewy heart.

The basic recipe for most Pasticcini di mandorle is simple, it’s really an almond marzipan; ground almonds and fine sugar bound with egg. This soft dough is then moulded or piped into balls, or shapes and then baked. Then around this basic recipe are lots of variations. Every so often I would try, and fail to read something written in Italian pinned to the shop wall behind the counter. I think it’s safe to assume it was boasting a long family tradition, the best pasticcini in the village and probably hinted at the closely guarded, secret ingredient. Or maybe it was just a notice about health and safety.

I became a part-time Pasticcini di mandorle detective, sitting on walls then pounding the streets trying to distract myself from my very odd situation – you may remember I’d fled – by analysing that days purchase. There was often a hint of lemon or orange zest, sometimes the scent of orange flower water or vanilla. Some certainly contained a dash of something alcoholic, maybe limoncello or almond wine, or tiny bits of very finely chopped candied fruit. I tasted some, near Taormina I think, where the dough was mixed with powdered chocolate, an odd colour it must be said, but really quite nice even if they weren’t my kind of thing. Many pasticcini I saw were studded with a rather unnaturally red glace cherry or whole almond, others sprinkled with chopped nuts. Some were dipped in chocolate.

After much consideration, pounding and perching on various walls, I decided my favourite were the very simplest.

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get around to making Pasticcini di mandorle. I may no longer be an almond junkie who needs a fix everyday at 5 o’clock, but I’m extremely partial to one or two every now and then. With a cup of coffee, at this time of year iced coffee, or maybe best of all, with a very bitter Amaro after dinner.

It may be a simple recipe, but this being Italy, and what with all the mamma’s and nonna’s and all the secret and not so secret recipes, there are endless variations and opinion about the quantities for Pasticcini di mandorle. The fiercest debate seems to be about the egg. Should you use just the yolk, just the white or the whole egg ? The second most passionately argued point the proportions of almond flour to sugar. At one point I had 11 pages open on the computer and seven books all telling me different things and a throbbing headache.

We ended up making three small batches of Pasticcini di mandorle, one with egg yolks, one with egg whites and one using whole eggs. We then ate a lot of pasticcini, on different days I hasten to add, and voted with our stomachs. All three batches were modest successes. I probably liked the ones made with egg white least, they were just too sticky even though I’d overcooked them. The ones made with just egg yolk seemed too rich and we missed the crisp lightness of the crust. Pasticcini di mandorle made with the whole egg however, were just right, crisp, cracked and toasted on the outside and inside, very soft, dense and just a bit chewy. What’s more the whole egg dough/paste was by far the easiest to work with.

Our favourites were made following a recipe from Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot. I didn’t visit Puglia during my demented not very grand tour, but we have visited many times in the last few years and eaten almond pasticcini very bit as delicious as those I had in Sicily.  My parents did a terrific cooking and wine course near Lecce back in May and this was the recipe they learned there. It includes a zest of a whole unwaxed lemon which we both appreciated. Next time I am going to try adding a few drops of orange flower water. I fear I’ve picked up the 5 o’clock habit once again.

The key to making balls from the sticky mixture is dusting your hands and the ball with lots and lots of icing sugar.

Pasticcini di mandorle (little, soft, almond biscuits)

makes about 15 – 20

  • 300g ground almonds
  • 200g icing sugar (plus extra for dusting)
  • the zest of a large unwaxed lemon
  • 2 medium-sized eggs gently beaten with a fork

Mix the ground almonds, icing sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl. Add the beaten egg and then using a fork or your fingers, bring the mixture together into a soft sticky dough.

Dust your hands with icing sugar and then scoop out walnut sized lump of dough, gently shape and then roll it between your palms into a ball. Dust the ball with more icing sugar and then put it on a baking tray lined with 2 layer of greaseproof paper. Continue making the rest of the balls. The balls should be well spaced as they swell as they cook.

Make an indentation into the center of each ball so they cook evenly.

Bake at 180° for about 20 minutes or when they are golden brown underneath and cracked, crisp and very pale gold on top.

Allow to cool. They will keep in an airtight tin for up to a month. At this time of year I like one with unsweetened iced coffee or after dinner with a glass of bitter amaro.

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Crackers.

I knew I’d like making and eating these olive oil crackers Lucy wrote about last week.

You roll out walnut sized nuggets of flour, water and olive oil dough really really thinly until you have these opaque, almost transparent, long, thin, beautifully misshapen things. You brush each one very generously with olive oil and sprinkle it with coarse salt before you bake them until they are pale gold, crisp, blistered and curling at the edges

I have made these crackers three times this last week and we (with lots of nice company) have been eating most of them straight from the oven, brushed with more olive oil while they are still warm, crack, crunch, warm oily shards. Especially delicious with black olives, red radishes, very white ricotta and a glass of this.

You will know how thin ‘thin is‘ after a few goes (my first batch were a bit chunky – we still ate them) and if like me you have a small oven, a small baking tray and therefore no choice but to cook the crackers in small batches, you will quickly get the hang of cooking times.

Olive oil crackers

From Ottolengi via Lucy’s Nourish Me, one of my favourite blog haunts

Sift 250g of plain flour a teaspoon of baking powder into a large bowl and make a well in the center and pour in 125ml of water and 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then using your hands bring the ingredients together into a dough and knead it until it is smooth. Wrap the dough in a tea towel and let it rest in the fridge for an hour or so.

Set the oven to 220°/ and line a baking tray with grease-proof paper.

Lightly dust your work surface and hands with flour. Pull off a walnut sized lump of dough and roll it into little sausage between your palms, then dusting with more flour as you work, roll the dough into a long, very thin, misshapen tongue on the floured board before laying it onto the lined baking tray.

Brush each length of dough generously with olive oil and sprinkle with some coarse sea salt like Maldon.

Put the tray in the preheated oven for 6 – 8 minutes. You need to keep an sharp eye on the timer and the crackers as they cook. They will, crisp, blister, curl at the edges and go very a pale golden colour (deep golden brown is too much). When they are ready, pull the tray from the oven and slide the crackers onto a wire rack. Cook the next batch.

The crackers will keep in a tin for a couple of days but I think they are best eaten still warm and brushed with more olive oil.

Last thing

As you can see, I didn’t finish that post, and after that rather grand announcement too, I feel a bit foolish. I am going to make the same recipe again on Saturday so we will see. Come to think of it I haven’t really finished anything this week, it’s been a tricky one and I am certainly not writing and posting as much I’d like too, I hope that will change in the coming weeks.

It feels a bit like spring in Rome and tomorrow I’m going to collect lots and lots of lemons; which is wonderful but quite ironic considering my recent procrastination and inability to finish anything except plates of crackers, a cute reminder to be careful what you wish for ! We will see.

Happy weekend to everyone.


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Monday 30th

Almond and pine nut biscotti

I don’t often make pudding or dessert. I am much more likely to buy a piece of cheese, a big bunch of grapes , a bar of dark chocolate (at present this) and make a batch of these crisp, double baked, almond and pine nut biscotti to be dipped or dunked in an espresso or even better in a glass of the Tuscan dessert wine Vin Santo.

We always make sure to save a few for the next day. They are very good for breakfast dipped in milky coffee and maybe even better, at about 11 o clock with an injection of espresso.

I love the wave of aniseed the fennel seeds lend to these biscotti, but I know it’s a quite particular flavour that can provoke strong opinions and reactions. If you are not a fan, leave the fennel seeds out.

Almond and pinenut biscotti (cantucci)

Adapted from Rowley Leigh’s recipe in No place like home

makes about 25 biscotti

  • 250g plain flour
  • 2 large eggs beaten
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 100g blanched almonds chopped very coarsely
  • 75g Italian pine nuts
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon of grated lemon zest

Preheat the oven to 200°/400f

Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients except the eggs. Mix well.

Add the beaten eggs and using your hands bring all the ingredients together into a ball of firm dough making sure the nuts are well-distributed. Cut the ball in half.

Shape both halves into a roll of dough about 4cm in diameter and place them both on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper.

Bake the rolls for 15 minutes by which time the dough will have spread and is still soft in the middle.

Take the biscuits out of the oven and lower the oven to 170°/330F

Let the rolls cool a little and then carefully lift/slide them onto a cutting board and with a sharp serrated knife cut them – on a slight diagonal if necessary – into roughly 8cm long 8mm wide slices.

Put the slices back, lined up like soldiers on the baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and put them back in the oven for 15 minutes. Turn them over and cook for a further 15 minutes. The biscuits will be dry, firm and crisp.

Cool the biscuits on a wire rack and then store them in an airtight tin.

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