Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Biscotti Anytime

Biscotti are my favorite cookies to bake. These Italian twice-baked cookies are as versatile as they are easy to make. They go perfectly with a cup of cappucino for breakfast or a mid-morning snack. They are a tasty complement to afternoon coffee, and they are perfect with dessert.

Many years back, when my son was young and we were experiencing a long snowy winter, I began my search for the perfect biscotti recipe. Through trial and error--and eating a lot of cookies--I came upon what I believe to be the perfect formula for me.

During my research I found  that most recipes I tried had about the same amounts of flour and sugar. But what seemed to vary the most was the amount of fat. The amount or lack of fat in a recipe seemed to considerably affect the texture, taste and the shelf life of the biscotti. Shelf-life was not something I needed to worry about because having an adolescent boy and his friends in the house rendered that concern moot. Of course, there are many traditional recipes for biscotti that do not use any fat. But the possibility of cracking a tooth on a too hard cookie did not appeal to me.

So I started to experiment. The amount of flour, sugar, baking powder and salt were pretty much a constant. I always used eggs but varied the amount of unsalted butter I used until the recipe produced a crisp but tender crumb. I have even made biscotti with olive oil with success; and with agave nectar with a little less success.
One of the fun things about making biscotti is that the variations and flavors are endless.  By changing a few ingredients--type of nuts, dried fruits, extracts, citrus zests, spices-- you can make an infinite variety of cookies. Don't be afraid to try savory ingredients, too. The biscotti take well to spicy and cheesy. And like making a risotto, once you learn the process, the sky's the limit.

The basic formula that continues to work for me for most of my recipes is 2 cups of flour, 3/4 cups sugar, 2 eggs, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 6 tablespoons unsalted butter.

After the dough is made and patted into logs, it goes into the oven for its first baking.

After approximately 30 minutes, the dough is removed from the oven and cooled on the baking sheet for about 15 minutes.

 The logs are cut on the diagonal with a sharp knife and returned to the oven for 10-15 minutes for the second baking to ensure crispness.

Cool biscotti completely on racks before storing.

 Why not try a batch of these delicious twice-baked cookies. You are sure to love them.

Spicy Orange Walnut Biscotti

Adapted from a recipe by EvanKleiman @kcrwevan

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons citrus zest of your choice
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and black pepper.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add vanilla and citrus zest.

 Blend in the dry ingredients with the mixer on low speed, then stir in the nuts and mix until the dough just comes together. Do not over mix.

Halve dough, and with floured hands, form dough into two 12 inch by 2 inch logs.This dough is a bit sticky, so you may want to wet your hands instead of flouring them. Place logs about 3 inches apart on parchment or silpat lined baking sheet.  Place sheet on rack in middle of oven.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until firm to touch.

Remove from oven and let logs cool on baking sheet for 10-15 minutes. Slice each log slightly on the diagonal into approximately 12  3/4 inch pieces.  Place cut side down on baking sheet and return to oven for 10-15 minutes turning over once.

 Cool completely before storing in an airtight container or in the freezer.

It is easy to grab as few or as many as you need, and they are ready to eat by the time the coffee is poured.  Makes about 2 dozen.

Note: I have edited the original post for updating and clarity 2/6/2016

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cooking Under Pressure

Last weekend on the east coast we were awaiting the arrival of a Nor'easter to dump buckets of snow on us; so we prudently put our dinner with friends on hold until later in the weekend. Towards the end of rush hour, with still no snow in the offing, I received a call from our friends asking me what I was cooking for dinner. By now you know that is code for, "We're coming over to eat." Without skipping a beat I answered, "Shrimp risotto."

 Actually, this was not entirely true. I was going to amuse myself by experimenting with pressure cooking risotto. Now, now, calm down. I know--this isn't right--turning that slow, rhythmic process of a time-honored tradition into fast food. Well not so. I pressure cooked a butternut squash risotto just last month. It was surprisingly good, but the timing was off, and I just wanted to fine tune it.

No time for that now. I removed the rest of the shrimp from the freezer and put them to defrost under running water. While that was going on, I heated up the pizza stone and started to pat out the pizza dough. By now you know, too, that I usually have pizza dough on hand on the weekend.  Defrosted, the shrimp were patted dry and cut into thirds. The arborio rice was poured out; the shallots minced; the garlic pressed; the white wine measured.

I poured some olive oil into a skillet and began to saute the shrimp. I added the garlic and salt and pepper and cooked until the shrimp just turned pink, then set them aside for later. I took my favorite copper sauteuse from its shelf, filmed the bottom with some olive oil and a pat of butter. In went the shallots until fragrant and translucent followed by the arborio rice which was stirred until it was coated with the olive oil and butter. Heat off and set aside.

 Risotto, made the traditional way, is really all about the technique. There is always a flavor base such as onions or shallots sauteed in butter or oil.  Then the medium-grain rice with just the right amount of starch, in this case Arborio, is coated well with butter and oil.  It is then cooked, uncovered, while gradually adding small quantities of liquid for the rice to absorb.

 I just had time to change my clothes as John came in through the garage and our friends through the front door.  As John took care if their libations, I thinly sliced two red potatoes, arranged them over the pizza dough, sprinkled them with rosemary, olive oil , salt and some grated Parmesan cheese, then slid the dough onto the screaming hot stone.  Within 10 minutes we were enjoying the pizza with our drinks.

As they sipped I heated the skillet containing the rice.  When it was hot again, I splashed in some white wine and let it reduce for about 30 seconds. Then I began the process of adding the hot broth--two ladles at first--until absorbed. Then I added one ladle at a time, stirring until it was absorbed before adding the next. The rice needs to be tender but still al dente. Just before the rice was done, approximately, 15 minutes,  I added the sauteed shrimp, some salt and pepper and stirred until heated through.  Off the heat, I stirred in a tablespoon or so of unsalted butter and some chopped parsley.  I added a tossed green salad and called it dinner. I thought the Pinot Grigio went well with the dish.

 Okay, the dinner came together quickly and was delicious (although heavy on the carbs)--so I guess I don't need to perfect that pressure cooker risotto after all.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Marcella's Noci in Camicia

I've just finished reading a post by Rachel Roddy of rachel eats in which she recounts her discovery of walnut pesto. She describes it as "...a soft delicate nutty paste of walnuts, olive oil, butter and aged parmesan..." How delicious does that sound? I was surprised I'd never heard of this, but I could literally taste this combination in my head. Rachel paints a beautiful picture with her words, but it was more than that.

I realized that I have been using this combination for years. In Marcella's Italian Kitchen, the authority on Italian cooking, Marcella Hazan, recalls the platter of walnuts with slivers of tender, young Parmesan being passed around the table while waiting for the first course to arrive. This combination, she says, never seems to pall especially with a glass of crisp white wine.

It occurred to her to bind the two ingredients, butter and Parmesan, sheathing the walnut halves with the mixture. Brilliant. The perfect bite with an apertif before dinner. I like Prosecco with these.

Noci in Camicia   by Marcella Hazan

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon butter, softened to room temperature
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
1/4 pound shelled walnut halves

In a bowl combine all the ingredients, except for the walnuts, until they are thoroughly amalgamated into a smooth paste.

Scoop up some of the cheese and butter mixture with your fingertips and apply it to the walnuts, sheathing each half only partially, leaving about one-third exposed.  Place on a dish without overlapping them and refrigerate until ready to serve--1-2hours.

Serves 6

N.B.  If you don't have fresh basil, don't let that stop you from making these.  They are fine without it.  Also, I have sandwiched some of the butter mixture between two walnut halves if I could not find decent sized halves.