Friday, January 25, 2013

Spiced Chocolate Balls

This is the last Sicilian cookie recipe for a while. Promise. I saved my favorite for last– spiced chocolate balls, or tetù. The dough is a fairly standard Sicilian recipe with the added eastern exoticism of cloves and new world chocolate.

As a child, Sicilian cookies were a much anticipated treat at my grandmother's house or her sister's, my great aunt Deda, especially during holidays. They always kept assorted collections in old shortbread cookie tins always lined with waxed paper. The lid would come off and the tin would be placed in the middle of the table with the pronouncement, "dui cookie" (2 cookies), a self-mocking, family joke, funny if only because it had been uttered thousands of times before, with the willful mash-up of English and mangled Italian that was stock-in-trade humor in my grandmother's extended family. I would stretch myself out to peer into the magic cornucopia of home baked biscotti and greedily extract all the tetù I could find. I would have to be quicker than my great uncle who shared a similar, obsessive preference for them. My great aunt Deda would look on with satisfied amusement at the one child and mild annoyance at the other.


I have a family recipe for these cookies, culled from a great aunt or second cousin. It's filled with margarine and other mid-century shortcuts and substitutions so I've chosen to use a very authentic recipe from Victoria Granof, a great chef and food stylist in New York City. Her book Sweet Sicily is the best compendium of the island's deserts in English.


1 cup blanched whole almonds
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg, lightly beaten


2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
12 ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
2 cups powdered sugar

Toast the almonds in a large pan over medium heat, tossing or stirring until brown. Let cool and then blend in a food processor or coffee grinder. Put into a large bowl and mix in the flour.

In a medium saucepan, whisk the butter, chocolate and milk, over low heat until the butter is melted. Whisk in the sugar and then remove from the heat and let cool.

Whisk the cloves, baking soda, salt, vanilla, and egg into the butter mixture. Stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Cover and chill the dough for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375˚

Pinch or scoop out a tablespoon full of dough and roll it between your palms to form a ball. Arrange on a parchment lined cookie sheet, 2 inches apart.

Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, or until puffy but still slightly soft in the center. Cool the cookies for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.

Make the glaze: In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil, whisking constantly. Boil for 3 minutes, then remove from the heat and whisk in the chocolate until melted. Whisk in the powdered sugar until smooth.

While the cookies are still warm, dunk them in small batches in the warm glaze and then put them on a cooling rack with a baking sheet underneath to catch the drips. The cookies and glaze should both be warm so that the cookies soak up the glaze.

Let the cookies cool long enough to firm up and become quite dense and the glaze hardens properly.

Store in a used shortbread cookie tin lined with waxed paper and serve with the pronouncement, "dui cookie" spoken in a thick Italian accent.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Dead Raspberries

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


A Christmas or two ago, I did a post about the mother of all Sicilian cookies– Cuccidati. But I hinted at a cookie far more strange and wondrous, one that always fascinated me as a child– Ossa dei Morti or "Bones of the Dead." Of course, in that particularly Italian habit of having different names for the same thing, my family called them Scadalini. My first etymological instinct was for some Arab linguistic connection, as is often the case, especially in the southern parts of Sicily where my grandfather's ancestors are from. My sister, however, who speaks fluent Arabic, saw no such connection. And my guru of all food Sicilian, Mary Taylor Simeti, consulted with her experts in Palermo and informed me that they've never heard the word and can find no historical evidence of it. It turns out the most wondrous and mysterious thing about Scadalini starts with its name.

I've associated the Sicilian cookies that my grandmother and aunt made with Christmas simply because they were always part of our holiday meals, but Scadalini are actually cookies more specifically made around All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day– the Day of the Dead, or our Halloween. The reason for the name "Bones of the Dead" is obvious once the cookies are baked and cooled - the rigatoni shaped cylinder of dough oozes out its soft filling, leaving a crispy bone white shell intact. Essentially powdered sugar and anise, nothing could be simpler (or stranger.)


This recipe comes from my Aunt Lena who learned from her mother Rosa (my great grandmother, or "Big Nana.") We always called her Big Nana so as to distinguish her from my grandmother (just Nana), but in ironic fact she was all of four feet six inches tall. Rosa emigrated from a small fishing town in southern Sicily in the early 1900's. She was all of 9 and had informed her older brother in New York that she would be accompanying his fiance and to please send her a one-way ticket for the ship, thank you very much. Leaving her parents and home at the age of 9 should tell you all you need to know about the towering will and determination of my diminutive great grandmother. She spoke no English and was therefore a distant and imposing figure in my childhood, but my father remembers living in outright terror of her.

A few things to keep in mind with this recipe– the dough resembles pasta dough more than cookie dough and the rolled and cut raw cookies need to sit over night to form a dry crust on top. Other than that, these are fairly simple affairs.

2 pounds powdered sugar (2 boxes)
1 pound flour (Aunt Lena measured it in an empty sugar box)
4 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons fennel seeds (lightly toasted and ground)
3 eggs
water as needed

Combine all the dry ingredients in a very large bowl and whisk about to thoroughly mix. Beat the eggs in a small bowl and then mix into the dry ingredients. Add water a little at a time until the dough resembles pasta dough. Test it by rolling a small amount into a 3/4 rope, like you're making gnocchi– it should just hold together. Kneading helps to bind it all together.

Once you've got the dough to the right consistency, take a small hunk and roll it out as above, into a 3/4 inch rope and then cut with a knife or pastry srcaper into 1 1/2 inch pieces. Arrange the cookies on a hard surface or cookie sheets (if you have a lot) and let them sit overnight or at least 12 hours to form a hard crust. The bottoms will remain moist and this is how the dough escapes the shell during baking.

Preheat the oven to 275˚

When ready to bake, place the cookies on a parchment lined cookie sheet, 2 inches apart (approximately 12 cookies per sheet) and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the tops start to golden.

Let them dry completely and get crunchy before eating many with a piping hot espresso.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Studio Carta for Martha Stewart

After being postponed once or twice, my first work for Martha Stewart Living is finally out and on the newsstands. The November issue has my story about Brookline bookbinder Angela Liguri and her sunny little shop, Studio Carta. We had a great day shooting and talking about Rome (her home town and my favorite city). I can't thank her enough and everybody in the Martha Stewart Photo department.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Personal Spaces for Improper Bostonian

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Area Four

 The latest issue of Boston Magazine is on the news stands with my pictures from Area Four, Michael Leviton's latest restaurant in Technology Square. I'm ashamed to say that I hadn't been there prior to the photo shoot, but one bite into the mac and cheese and I realized what a truly grave error that had been.

I should back up a moment and say that the thought of dining out when you have a one-year old and a three-year old is fraught with trepidation and anxiety. Gone are the days of romantic evenings and fine dining. Those childless dates are replaced with a new set of values in restaurant dining – fast, kid-friendly and ultimately, almost unavoidably, mediocre. Fast-forward back to Michael Leviton's mac and cheese. Here was a place with amazing adult food that I could also imagine my girls tucking right into. In fact I text-messaged the wife and told her to pack up the daughters and meet me at A4 for dinner that night. Do I need to say it was a huge success and a delicious time was had by all.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Snowdrops in Winter

I was over at Catrine's (my food stylist) this afternoon, rummaging about her yard for rocks (don't ask), when I stumbled across a little patch of snowdrops, pushing up through the leaves and pine needles. It's February mind you. In Boston. Last year at this time we under five or six feet of snow. But snowdrops? Funny how you bitch about the snow when it's here and yearn for it when it's not.

I may take Sadie out to the garden this weekend and plant peas.