Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How to use up that open bottle of wine

Walking into my kitchen last Wednesday morning, you might have thought me a fool. You would have found me, standing in front of a hot oven, eyes closed, as the passionte voice of a tenor singing opera filled the air. I would have seemed lost. Anything but. In fact, I was smelling heaven. See, I made these:

Biscotti al vino. Wine cookies. Flour, sugar, olive oil, white wine, a little fennel seed and lemon peel. Basta. Now that I have made them, I can't think of anything more miraculous.

It began as I was reading Marlena di Blasi's wonderful A Thousand Days in Venice, in which she falls in love with a "blueberry-eyed" Venetian, and marries him. The book is as much a meditation on life as it is on love, and in Italy, life means food. And so, page after page contains the simplest mentions of some meal, each one restrained yet tempting. And I am easily seduced by the power of suggestion. So when Marlena goes to the bakery and buys biscotti al vino, "cookies made with white wine, olive oil, fennel seed, and orange peel," I want some too.

I began searching for recipes, finding them mostly in Italian. The ingredent list is short, however, and easy enough to understand. (None of the recipes I found called for the fennel and orange flavorings, but as she was eating her cookies in Venice, I figured that's authentic enough. I substituted lemon for orange.) The method seemed intuitive. So I began, mixing flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and fennel seed. To it, I added olive oil, white wine, and lemon peel, bringing the dough (which is almost like a bread dough) together. I let it sit. I shaped the dough into little doughnuts, dusted them with sugar, then into the oven. After awhile, I could really begin to smell them, which is where you would have found me, reveling in the luxurious combination of aromas. Let me just say, that if you ever would like someone to fall in love with you, put a tray of these in the oven before he arrives.

And they taste pretty darn amazing too. The wine offers a subtle, je ne sais quoi kind of flavor. Or, to quote one of the Italian bloggers I discovered in my search for a recipe, they are, "facile, facile, ma buona, buona" (easy, easy, but good, good). And I'm thrilled to find a baked good I can make without butter or eggs.

I have made these cookies twice in the span of one week. The first time I made them, the recipe I developed yielded good results, but the dough was hard to work with, so I tweaked it a little and was satisfied the second time around. So, here is my recipe for biscotti al vino:

Put 1 1/2 c flour, 1/4 c sugar, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds, and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Use a whisk to mix. Pour in 1/4 c olive oil and 1/3 c white wine. Grate over the zest of half a lemon. Use a wooden spoon to begin incorporating ingredients, then use your hands to knead into a smooth dough. Let rest, covered with a dishcloth, for 15 minutes and preheat oven to 360 degrees.
Pour 1 T sugar on a plate. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Take a walnut-sized piece of dough and roll into a snake. Join the ends, making a little doughnut-shaped cookie. Dip the top in sugar and put on the baking sheet. Continue. Will make around 12 cookies.

Bake in preheated oven for 15-25 minutes--depending on what you want the texture of the cookie to be. Shorter time will give a softer cookie, but it will not color. Longer time will slightly brown the cookies and yield a crunchy cookie.

PS-Haven't tried it yet, but I hear you can make these with red wine too. Might change the other flavorings, like clove instead of fennel.