Tuesday, November 2, 2010

(un po') Brutti Ma (molto) Buoni: Italian Pistachio Biscotti

Biscotti al Pistacchio: Brutti Ma Molto Buoni
 I have this great biscotti recipe that I make every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It's my thing.  I've been doing it for years and it has sentimental value to me, both because of its familiarity and the recipe's sentimental provenance (yet another Payard favorite).  But as far as biscotti go, that is where I get off the train.  I'm not into "dry" cookies.  Plain cookies suck, as far as I'm concerned.  Give me chunks and chocolate and nuts or go home  - right?  Any self-respecting American would hold this philosophy on a pedestal because American cookies are generally pretty involved affairs.  Even the plainer ones can't compete with the simplicity of Scottish shortbread or Italian biscotti.  That razzle-dazzle style is what non-Americans have come to love about "cookies" versus "biscuits."

But then there's this place I have to try in Rome - recommended by no less than David Lebovitz and Heidi of 101 Cookbooks via Lebovitz - Innocenti Biscottificio Artigiano.  It's a biscuit bakery in Trastevere and it's run by an Italian family.  And all they make is biscotti.  Doesn't exactly sound like my typical cup of tea and yet the idea of these freshly made biscotti and their scent wafting down beautifully uneven cobblestone streets has had me enraptured since I first read about this place.  And despite the plethora of choices I'm sure they'll have, I am especially interested in the "brutti ma buoni" (ugly but good) biscotti which Lebovitz specifically recommended.  I am a strong believer that good food does not have to look pretty - and that, in fact, a certain rusticity and lack of manipulation in a dish is an aesthetic that is pleasing unto itself.  These "brutti ma buoni" could be just the "plain cookies" for me.

But with that in mind, and to continue my Italian-inspired blog rampage - I decided to try out a biscotti recipe recently posted on 101 Cookbooks.  I am intrigued by Heidi's obsession with "itty bitty cookies" as I have recently discovered that if I make cookies smaller I tend to eat the same amount and actually consume less calories. :)  But in additon to this, I am also hosting a play-date cum Mom's Coffee hour at my house with some of my new Abu Dhabi friends and thought this would make a great accompaniment to the hot beverages we will theoretically be consuming.

While these biscotti aren't actually completey brutti (ugly), the batter kind of is.  It's made entirely of ground pistachios, egg whites, sugar, honey and vanilla.  Wow.  I don't know exactly what it is about that magical combination of nuts and honey, but it serves Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine time and time again, and while I used to not be a huge fan (again with the chocolate dessert obsession) I am slowly growing to truly love it.  The ground up pistachios give the batter for these biscotti the appearance of a green whole-grain mustard (not exactly cookie-ish).  But once they are rolled in icing sugar and golden-baked, the green center is a beautifully pleasant and semi-chewy surprise.  Molto buoni.

Anyway, these biscotti are simplicity itself.  And for this, among other things, I love them.  Don't judge a book by it's cover; don't judge biscotti by their batter.  It's an easy, healthy way to live.
If you want the recipe, check out this post on 101 Cookbooks.  My only cooks' notes are:

1. Make the cookies 1 tsp size, and use spoons to roll them in the icing sugar (or it will get molto brutto and molto messy).

2. Cook them the entire recommended time (15-18 minutes) even if you make them "itty bitty" or they will be a soggy mess.  At least that's true with my oven.  Maybe just check on them after 10 minutes (Heidi's modified itty bitty baking time).

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And now, a pictorial journey through making these biscotti. 

Innocenti Biscottificio Artigiano
Via della Luce, 21, Trastevere
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  1. I'll have to check this recipe out. I liked the cookies we had in Italy not too over the top. I liked the subtlety of some of the recipes, although some were more like crackers and very plain. I'd be serving those with the grappa.

    By the way, Heidi of 101 Cookbooks, just got back from Rome too and has a list of suggestions.

  2. Thanks Oyster - I agree about the plainness of Italian cookies. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don't.

    And yes, I know Heidi just got back from Rome, that's where I got her recc for going to Innocenti Biscottificio :)