…from the Perspectives’ Holiday Kitchen
How you doin’? I love the history and the origins of foods. The anthropology of man can be traced more accurately through the foods and beverages over time rather than just the richness of art, the prose of literature, the rhythm of music or the structure of architecture.
So, where did Biscotti originate? From the Roman Legions, of course. There is a common misconception that biscotti originated in the Tuscan region of Italy when it was created a few centuries earlier in Rome. The word biscotto is derived from the Latin 'bis' for 'twice' and 'coctum' or 'baked' which would soon be adapted to 'cotto' meaning 'cooked'.
The first round in the oven was used to cook the dough and the second round dried and preserved the biscotti, providing an extraordinarily long shelf life for nourishment during the Roman Legions' extended journeys and conquests across the world. Pliny the Elder was an author, philosopher and naval commander who used to boast that, ‘biscotti would be edible for centuries.’
After the fall of the Roman Empire around 110 A.D, the country was besieged by Visigoths, Vandals and others resulting in the Dark Ages. This was characterized by a lack of culinary or cultural development as citizens struggled to thrive.
From the Dark Ages came the Renaissance and with it the reemergence of food and notably biscotti by an Italian baker named Antonio Mattei in the mid 1800’s. His original recipe was awarded a prize at the Exhibitions in Florence in 1861, London in 1862 and Paris in 1867. The recipe is kept as a secret of the Pandolfini family, who inherited the original bakery in 1904, and are now in their fourth generation of running it.
On the 160th anniversary of the bakery's opening, the Piccolo Museo Bottega (small museum shop) was opened in the heart of Florence as an ode to Mattei and his art.
Biscotti was originally served with sweet wine. Vin Santo is a smooth, sweet dessert wine made in the Tuscan region of Italy. The wine is cherished for its intense hazelnut, caramel and apricot flavors and for centuries many Italians have adored the tradition of the perfect pairing of Vin Santo with biscotti. While biscotti today is often enjoyed with a coffee or espresso, many Italians still find the sweet wine pairing the ultimate ending to a meal or a perfect treat to while away the afternoon at a cafe.
Bakers revolutionized biscotti baking adding almonds and anisette. With biscotti’s reemergence in Italy came its revolution from the pallid, dry staple of Roman nourishment into a culinary gift reflecting distinct local flavors, like the Prato almonds native to Tuscany.
Biscotti became so popular as it spread throughout the peninsula that soon every province developed its own flavored version. Ingredients quickly expanded to include anisette, amaretto and even lemon-flavored doughs.
Would you believe, explorer Christopher Columbus carried biscotti on his voyages to the new world?... well, he did. The story goes that old Chris tucked a stash of biscotti in the hull of one of his three sailing ships—the Niña, the Pinta, or the Santa Maria—on his legendary expedition to the Americas in 1492.
Okay, so now you know the rest of the story. There will be a pop-quiz next period before you can be rewarded with a cookie.
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Cooling time: 10 minutes
Yield: About 32 cookies
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 cups almonds or pistachio nuts
1/2 cup candied cherries (red and green) or cranberries
ChefSecret: Slow baking at a lower temperature will give you the best results. If using salted nuts omit the 1/4 teaspoon salt from the recipe.
Quip of the Day: “No matter how educated, talented, rich or cool you believe you are, how you treat people ultimately tells all.”
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To you and everyone dear to you, be strong, be positive, stay well, stay safe and be kind. Take a breath and count your blessings, and if you have a little extra to share with others, please consider donating to Feeding America and/or American Red Cross.
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