My husband Domenico is very generous when it comes to gifts. He has given me my best jewelry and certainly all of my techno- gadgets. But where he really shines is bringing home the bacon. Literally. He’s an architect, so whenever he travels he usually comes back with delicious bounty. Last week, he only traveled as far as his office, but he came home with about 2 kilos of hazelnuts.
They weren’t just any hazelnuts, of course. These ones came from the hazelnut center of Lazio: the area just around Viterbo. Domenico’s assistant, Emanuele, is from a small town in that area, and brought a sack full into the office. Called ‘nocchie’ in the local dialect, the nuts are pretty big for hazelnuts, and incredibly fragrant. Last year the nocciole romane finally got their DOP label. You can read all about them here (in Italian) and see some videos of the hazelnut harvest.
So, these nuts are great and I was so happy to get them, but......they come in shells. That’s the thing about nuts. The shells. Which is why I so rarely make the effort to bake with nuts since by the time pre- shelled nuts hit the shelves, they have so often gone rancid. (and no, there are no Trader Joe's in Italy).
Since last Sunday was sort of overcast and gloomy, I decided an afternoon spent shelling wouldn’t be so bad. Also, I had another excuse to get at those nut meats: Biscotti. No, not just the cookie, but the book. My friend Mona Talbott’s new book, Biscotti, is finally out! Mona heads the Rome Sustainable Food Program at the American Academy. The cookbook, gorgeously photographed by Annie Schlecter, is the first in a series that will cover soups, salads, pastas...everything eventually. And all profits from this slim, elegant little book goes directly to the RSFP.
There is an entire chapter on nut cookies. This comes as no surprise, since Mona uses mostly local ingredients, and there are nuts-a-plenty around Rome. But Mona is also at an advantage when it comes to nuts. She has a lot of help when it comes to cracking those pesky shells. The RSFP is not only about providing sustainable, local, healthy food. It is also about creating community. And what better way to instill a sense of togetherness at the Academy than sitting around a table cracking nuts?
So, after an hour of community building around our own kitchen table I was finally ready to bake. I chose Biscotti alle Nocciole (Hazelnut Butter Cookies) from the book. But I had so many nuts, cracked and ready, I decided to make another recipe as well, but this time from Mona’s mentor Alice Water’s book, The Art of Simple Food. I love her biscotti recipe and always play around with the ingredients. This time I slipped in hazelnuts (surprise) and bitter chocolate, as well as the zest from a Meyer lemon from the terrace.
I’ll be working my way through the rest of Biscotti in the next few months. And I’ve already ordered a dozen copies since a) it’s gorgeous, b) it’s surprisingly cheap and c) all the money goes towards one of my favorite causes. So, order your copiesAcademy, and I’m sure Mona would be happy to sign them. And the Friends of the Academy will be hosting a book signing/ cookie tasting in December (so join the Friends group now! so you will be invited) But if you are reading this and are my best friend and/or sister or mother, just know, I’ve already bought a copy for you for Christmas. right away. If you are in Rome, they are for sale up at the
Biscotti alle Nocciole
Hazelnut Butter Cookies
(from Biscotti, by Mona Talbott and Mirella Misenti)
Yields 36 cookies
36 whole hazelnuts
200 g/ 7 oz hazelnuts
225 g./1 2/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
225 g./ 1 c. plus 1 tbsp butter
140 g./ 2/3 c. + 1 tsp sugar
60 g/ 3 tbsp sugar for coating
Preheat oven to 150 c/ 300 F
Spread shelled hazelnuts on a sheet pan and toast for 10 minutes, or until the skins begin to split. While nuts are still warm, place them inside a clean tea towel. Gather the towel into a secure bundle and roll the nuts in a circular motion to loosen and remove some of the skins. (**My skins never came off. I think because the nuts were so fresh. Didn’t seem to make a difference)
Pulse the toasted hazelnuts in the food processor until coarsely chopped.
Sift the flour, cinnamon and a pinch of salt in a medium sized bowl.
Cram the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the flour mixture and work the dough until it is even and smooth. Gently fold chopped nuts without over-mixing. Cover and put in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Remove dough and form it into 36 small balls. Transfer cookies to sheets lined with parchment paper, leaving 2.5 cm/ 1/4 inch between cookies. Place 1 whole nut in the center of each cookie. Sprinkle with sugar,
Bake for 12 minutes, until golden brown.
Let cool on cookie sheet a bit, since they are very fragile when they come straight out of the oven.
Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti
(adapted from Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food)
Makes about 40 cookies
Preheat oven to 350F
1 cup whole hazelnuts
1 cup chopped chocolate or chips
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp freshly grated meyer lemon zest (or lemon or orange)
3 eggs, room temp
1 cup sugar
Toast hazelnuts for 5 minutes. Let cool.
Sift together flour and baking powder.
In another bowl combine eggs, sugar and zest. Beat until ribbon forms. Stir in flour until just mixed in. Gently fold in chocolate and nuts.
On a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet, form the dough into two 3-inch wide loaves, about 3 inches apart. Smooth the loaves with damp hands. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden. Let cool for 10 minutes. Lower the oven temp to 300 F. Cut the cooled loaves into 1/2 inch thick cookies and place cut side down on 2 baking sheets. Cook for 10 minutes, turn over and bake for 10 more minutes.