Growing up Italian: The “abominable” Biscotti
My maternal grandmother was what one would call- nowadays- a fashionista.
Living “la dolce vita” in Firenze (Florence) at the eve of WWII could have been glamorous. She took full advantage of it. Married to my grandfather, a Marshall of the Italian Army, she attended the Opera wearing the latest fashion, and purchased her shoes from Salvatore Ferragamo, who back then was just emerging as a promising shoemaker in Italy.
Her lifestyle changed when Italy got hit by the war, and my grandfather got seriously wounded. The family moved back to Nonna’s village on the border between Umbria and Tuscany. Her untamable spirit, sharp mind,bright red lipstick and platinum blond hair, remained unaltered and withstood relentlessly the passing years, until she died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 96.
Nonna was a good cook, but her mother, my great grandma Annetta, was superb.
I got to know her in my youth since she also had the gift of longevity. As a teenager, though, I wasn’t as much into cooking as I was into eating. Now I wish I had paid more attention.
Annetta’s kitchen skills though, have left a legacy through a family staple: her cookies. A concoction of dry fruits, nuts and wine creates an incredible combination that pops into your mouth with unexpected bursts of flavors without being too sweet. We never really had a name for those cookies we just referred to them as “biscotti della nonna Annetta” or Grandma’s biscotti (technically cookies, but all cookies are called biscotti in Italy)
The cookies are a hybrid between a southern Italian cookie called Cuccidati and some northern African ones called Ma’amoul.
Have you ever tried to ask for a recipe from an Italian? I hear your frustration! There is no recipe! “A little bit of this, a handful of that..and cook it until it’s done”
Sketchy directions and proportions are given verbally from person to person. Nevertheless, like by some sort of kitchen miracle, exquisite dishes appear… each time with a little mutation, of course.
I think this is exactly how these cookies entered our family tradition: the directions were verbally given to Nonna Annetta who made it hers, developing a recipe that could make everybody happy. How could it not, with Wine in the dough!!
Now, what I’m about to propose, is yet ANOTHER small mutation of the recipe that has been in my family for as long as I can remember, at least 50 years. Why? Well, first I wanted to give the cookies a more consistent look, secondly I had to give you written quantities since approximation is not my thing, either.
This is where my Zio Fabio (Uncle Fabio) comes into play. Uncle Fabio is my mom’s youngest brother. He was just a teenager when I was born, and we used to “hang out” together a lot.
These days Fabio is a retired engineer who spent most of his life surfing the globe building Natural Gas pipelines. I remember growing up, the joy and excitement we would experience when we would get one of his postcards from the Persian Gulf or the South Pole.
Uncle Fabio is an excellent cook who lives in between Milano, where he easily navigates the food scene, and the sleepy town of Fano, on the Adriatic coast, where he likes sailing and cooking with the local seafood.
We are still very close. In fact, I would say he’s the one that keeps me connected to the rest of the family in Italy, since he’s the most technologically equipped of the bunch.
When Uncle sees my creations, a fusion of America meets Italy, he calls such dishes ABOMINATIONS since they obviously stray from the traditional Italian standards.
So, here you have it today: Another little slice of my life, an old family recipe without a name, and a cookie that is a total abomination…
Until next time: Ciao! and Mangia!
If you don’t have an original Ma’amoul cookie form, you can shape the cookies freestyle.
This is how the “freestyle” cookies look like. Uneven and oily dough is ok. It all will change while baking.The finished product: lightly golden around the edges and on the bottom.
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