Biscotti comes from the Latin word biscoctus meaning ‘twice cooked, or baked.’ Baking them twice makes them dry, so they’re easy to store for long periods of time. This was highly advantageous at one point in time. Twice-baked breads were useful during long journeys and wars, and were a staple food of the Roman legion. Now, it’s simply a lovely left-over result of the original recipe that we’re still enjoying today. From the kitchens of the American Academy in Rome, ‘Biscotti’ is a very special cookbook, a small love letter to one of Italy’s most famous sweets.
The book is the first in a series of small hardcover cookbooks on single subjects to be published by the American Academy in Rome in conjunction with the Rome Sustainable Food Project, a program devoted to providing organic, local and sustainable meals for the community of artists who work and study at the AAR. Author, Mona Talbott is the American born, Chez Panisse-trained Executive Chef who oversees the kitchens of the Academy. Alice Waters is also part of the collaborative dining program advising on menus, and food choices. The program was first implemented in 2007 when the Academy remodeled and revamped the AAR kitchens. The Rome Sustainable Food Project facilitates the AAR’s move towards sustainable, and local cooking and eating.
The book is comprised of fifty recipes for bite-sized cookies, or biscotti, and includes five categories: Milk and Wine; Nuts; Honey, Citrus, and Spice; Meringue; and Chocolate. There are recipes for cookies to be eaten throughout the day – for dipping into caffe latte in the morning, for after lunch (or dinner) dips into vino dolce, or dessert wine, or to eat with a mid-afternoon espresso. While the original biscotti di Prato recipe used only almonds, modern recipes now include other types of seeds and nuts like pine nuts, sesame seeds, walnuts, and almonds; dried fruit; herbs and spices are added too; flavorings like extracts and liqueurs are also used.
The recipes in ‘Biscotti’ use these and more. There are even recipes for ladyfingers, macaroons, and snickerdoodles. To appease homesick American students the kitchen created peanut butter cookies – not a cookie an Italian would normally eat. This is an interesting cookbook from a unique organization. It could easily be too esoteric but it’s not; it’s the opposite – down-to-earth and accessible. The recipes are easy to follow, and they work. The end result is the best proof of the book’s success: it’s almost impossible to stop popping these bite-sized cookies into one’s mouth. It will be interesting to see what the Academy and the Rome Sustainable Food Project come up with next.
Biscotti: Recipes from the Kitchen of The American Academy in Rome, The Rome Sustainable Food Project By Mona Talbott and Mirella Misenti.
Charles G. Thompson is a Los Angeles-based freelance food writer, whose reviews and stories can be found at his blog 100 Miles, an exploration of local sustainibility.