It is time to come to grips with the fact that I will never run my household the way my mother ran hers. How do I know? Because when I was growing up, by this time Easter week my mom would have:
* Made and frozen her pizza rustica, a classic savory Easter torte, so that it would be ready to be reheated in the oven to serve as an antipasto on Easter Sunday
* Made and frozen her pastiera—a rustic ricotta torte made with wheat berries, and our traditional Easter dessert
* Baked two beautiful golden braids of sweet Easter bread, ready for slicing and toasting on Easter morning
* Baked and decorated her giant sugar cookie bunnies (shaped not from a store-bought cookie cutter, but from a simple wax paper pattern that she cut herself)
* Decided on and shopped for most of the ingredients on her Easter Sunday dinner menu
* Shopped for Easter basket goodies
* Bought her children new Easter outfits
By contrast, I have done none of those things. In fact, I haven’t even been around. I’ve been up in New York this last week at a conference for culinary professionals, cavorting with friends and colleagues, attending panels, workshops, and meetings, shaking hands, swapping cards, signing books, and eating out. As is often the case for me at such jam-packed events, I came away feeling highly inspired and motivated, and highly overwhelmed.
And with a May 1 book deadline staring me in the face, I can tell you if any of those things on that Easter list do happen it certainly won’t be because of me. What will happen is these cheese biscotti, because they are easy to make, will feed a lot of people, and make an excellent Easter Sunday stuzzichino (snack) while you wait for the lamb to roast. They are by no means traditional; instead they are a riff on the traditional sweet almond biscotti of Tuscany. Still, there is something appealingly familiar about the way they taste—the peppery bite, the warm, pronounced cheese notes, the delicate crunch of the almonds. All the better if you serve them with a sharp goat’s or sheep’s milk cheese, a bowl of olives, and, if you have it, a dollop of tomato marmalade.
Buona Pasqua a tutti. Happy Easter! And, if you happen to have more ambition in the kitchen than I do at the moment, I am happy to point you to the recipe for my mother’s outrageously rich (and awesome) pizza rustica, originally published in my book Big Night In.
(from Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style)
Once you get the hang of this recipe (it won't take long) you can experiment with different nuts, such as walnuts to replace the almonds; different cheeses, such as cheddar or dry Jack; and a variety of herbs and spices, such as rosemary, cayenne, or crushed fennel.
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (coarse grind)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 cup grated aged Asiago cheese
- 1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano cheese
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds (with skins)
- 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup milk
Put the flour, pepper, baking powder, salt, cheeses, and almonds in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse briefly to combine. Add the butter and pulse briefly. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the beaten eggs. Combine the remaining eggs with the milk and pour the mixture into the food processor. Process just until the mixture begins to form a ball of dough.
Turn the dough out onto a large piece of waxed paper and pat it into a disk. Wrap the disk in the waxed paper and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Divide into 2 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a log about 11 inches long, 2 inches wide, and 3/4 to 1 inch thick. Place the logs on a rimmed baking sheet. With a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops of the logs with the remaining beaten egg. Bake the logs for 30 minutes, rotating the baking sheet after 15 minutes. The logs should be golden on top and springy to the touch. Remove them from the oven and transfer them to a rack to cool for 20 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F. Place a log on a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, cut it on the bias into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Transfer the slices to a rimmed baking sheet.
Bake the biscotti for 35 to 40 minutes, turning them once halfway through, until they are golden and crisp. Remove the biscotti to a rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining log.
Serve as an appetizer with cheese, salami, olives, and tomato marmalade.