The Italians, in my opinion, are the best at biscuits.
Several years ago, I booked a last minute flight to Italy to accompany my friend Lucy to a tiny town on top of a mountain called Monte San Martino. We were both approaching final exams and she had decided that the best place to get the peace and quiet to concentrate on this was in a monastery on top of a mountain. (Her aunt is a nun at this monastery, and no I don't mean a convent, for some reason it was definitely called a monastery).
Anyway, it was exactly perfect for its purpose. We got lots of work done at a small table in a sparse room, overseen by Jesus on the cross. I had been having a somewhat turbulent time in London and the quietness and unbelievable greenness and beauty of the place could not have been better conceived to heal that.
But, the point of this story is the food. My goodness, I've never since or before come across such food. The nuns worked some fields a little way down the mountain. They had cloistered pigs and cows, and made their own cheese and ham. They received gifts of fruit and wine from the villagers. We arrived for breakfast, lunch and dinner at set times and dined with the local priest and various others at a big stone table.
Fresh tomatoes, oozing soft cheese, simple pasta soups, slices of meat and potatoes, wonderful bread...
And for breakfast, we got a bowl of milky coffee, soft fresh brioche style rolls, homemade jam, and a whole massive tray of homemade biscuits. They were divine.
These aren't quite up to that standard, but they are pretty good. This is an adaptation of a more normal Cantuccini recipe with almonds. I just happened to have pistachios to hand and thought I'd try that. Compared to commercial ones, I think they lack some perfume and sweetness, and wonder whether an addition of orangeflower water or fragrant honey would help.
Orange and Pistachio Biscotti
1. PREHEAT oven to 190C
2. MIX TOGETHER: 1.25 cups plain flour; a pinch of salt; 1/2 tsp baking powder; 1/2 cup ground pistachios; 1/4 cup sugar; 3/4 cup chopped pistachios; zest of one orange
3. ADD: 2 lightly beaten eggs and MIX TO A DOUGH
4. ROLL dough into a sausage shape of about 2cm diameter. Cut to fit baking tray and place the sausages about 5cm apart on the tray.
5. BAKE for 20 minutes
6. REMOVE from the oven and turn oven to 80C. Slice the sausages into 1cm diagonal slices and place back on trays.
7. BAKE for 1 hour, turning half way through. Cool on a rack.