Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Repeat, with pleasure

Summer will always be about repeats. Old television loops on the tele. Watermelon continually makes itself seen. Pools and lakes and ponds are hopefully frequently frequented. We all have habits that we resort to when things quiet down and heat up, and this is what seems to bring us great comfort as the days get longer and then, past the end of June, shorter again.

In this light, I'm afraid that my creativity so far this summer has been somewhat limited.

Gracing our creekside table so far this summer (repeatedly):

nettle pesto pasta (x 4)roasted tomatoes (x 4)
roasted bell pepper pasta with prosciutto (x 3)
spinach frittata (x 7 with variations)
banana bread (x 5 I think)
almond and anise biscotti (x 5)
cocoa brownies (x at least 9)

And that is really about it. Repeated.

At this point, I have seen these dishes aplenty, and they almost feel like old hat to me. Perhaps I can blame this on my slight absence in this space. But the thing is, every time I remake them and serve them, they are loved again.

And again and again and again.

Perhaps this is where the term "classic" is derived from. Something we can count on, something iconic, something reliably enjoyable...this can be said for all of these dishes.

For now, I'll begin with the biscotti.

These little puppies are unmatchable. That is to say, I have ordered biscotti a few times, from bakeries good and bad, coffee shops large and small. Generally, I have been sadly underwhelmed. Perhaps if I just think of the biscotti as something to fill the stomach alongside a cappuccino, I had told myself in the past, imaging that biscotti serve the same purpose in a coffee shop as say, peanuts in a bar.

Friends, these are no peanuts.

Small, crumbly, perfectly toothsome yet still tender, with a combination of flavors that is nothing less than hauntingly special, these biscotti have won me over exactly five times so far this summer.

Perhaps it's the fennel seeds tossed into the mixture. They add something sweet, and even a little savory, that keeps me going back for more. Perhaps it's the roasted almonds, browned on their own and then again in the cookies. Or maybe it's the touch of cornmeal...

Regardless, they also seem to go with everything. We've had them on their own. We've had them as appetizers. We've had them alongside a bowl of cherries. We've had them dipped in sweetened, whipped marscapone. And we've had them alongside a glass of lovely Leitz riesling, which quite simply sealed the deal and sent these cookies straight to that tender spot in my heart.

The best part may just be that there are variations on these biscotti that I have yet to even begin to think about. Hazelnuts! Pistachios! Chocolate! But for the moment, I have been quite satisfied with this original version. Simple and whole, a classic delivered.

Almond and Anise Biscotti
adapted from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook

3/4 cups almonds
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp fine cornmeal
2 tsp anise seeds
4 tbsps cold butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
anisette (optional)

1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heat a frying pan over a medium flame for several minutes. Add the nuts, and toast until fragrant and browned. Set aside to cool slightly. (Alternatively, toast them in the oven for about 15 minutes).

2) Combine flour, baking soda, salt, cornmeal, and seeds in a bowl.

3) Finely chop 1/4 cup of almonds, and coarsely chop the rest. Add to the flour mixture.

4) Barely cream the butter and the sugar, then stir in the egg and the anisette (if using). Stir into the flour mixture.

5) Separate the dough into two pieces and form each into a 1 inch log. Set both on a cookie sheet with plenty of space between them. Bake 15-20 minutes until browning.

6) Remove from oven, and slice each log at an angle, 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch wide. Set with one cut side down on the cookie sheet, and then bake again 5-8 minutes until browned on the cut side. Let cool completely before serving.