Biscotti di mandorle e pinoli
Bis means ‘again’, and it is what Italians shout insistently to singers instead of encore. It’s what you say as you hand your emptied plate back to the person with the serving spoons while eyeing up the last slice of lasagne, and it prefixes cotti to make biscotti, meaning ‘cooked again’ or ‘cooked twice’.
As with the English word ‘biscuit’, biscotti is now the generic Italian word for biscuits, not all of which are re-baked. These biscotti, though, most certainly are. The first bake is of long, flat logs of dough until they are almost cooked but still soft enough to cut. Once you have cut the logs into long, tongue-like slices and laid them side by side, you bake them again until hard and crisp.
Almond, pine nuts and fennel seeds make a distinctive, opinionated combination that tends to divide people. At one lunch, a friend who bakes seriously said they were one of the most delicious biscotti she had ever eaten while her husband slid the rest of his under a napkin and drank a glass of water. You could, of course, leave the fennel seeds out or replace them with a little finely chopped rosemary. The almonds can be replaced with hazelnuts.
Biscotti are best with a drink: usually coffee (either milky or black), dessert wine or another thing that divides people: a short glass of herbal, slightly medicinal Amaro. They keep brilliantly in an airtight tin.
makes about 25
Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6 and line a baking tray with baking parchment.
Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients except the eggs. Mix well. Add the beaten eggs and use your hands to bring the ingredients together into a ball of firm dough, making sure the nuts are well distributed. Cut the ball in half. Shape both halves into sausages about 4 cm in diameter and place them on
the baking tray. Bake for 20–25 minutes, by which time the dough will have spread out and should still be soft in the middle, but firm enough to cut into slim slices.
Take the rolls out of the oven and reduce the temperature to 170°C/150°C fan/gas mark 3. Let them cool a little, then carefully lift or slide them on to a chopping board. Using a sharp, serrated knife, cut them, on a slight diagonal if necessary, into slices roughly 8 cm long and 8 mm wide. Put the slices back on the baking tray, lined up like soldiers, and return to the oven for 15 minutes. Turn them over and cook for a further 15 minutes, or until dry, firm and crisp. Cool on a wire rack, then store them in an airtight tin.