Tag Archives: salt

Sicilian Almond Cookies

There is no kitchen on earth, I think, that treats almonds better than Sicily’s. Trapani’s pesto calls for almonds and parsley, and cooks on the Aeolian Islands sauce their pasta with a thick tomato and almond sauce; almonds are also ground and added to a veal and chocolate stuffing for savory pies, stirred into chicken stews, and scattered over salads.

As far as sweets go, almond paste is so important in Sicily that it goes by the name of pasta reale (royal paste). Sicilians are skilled at making marzipan pastries shaped like fruit painted in bold colors (a specialty of the nuns of the Martorana convent) and an abundance of almond cookies, macaroons, and cakes. The best time to enjoy all of these sweets is February, when almond trees are in bloom and islanders are busy celebrating spring with almond festivals that hark back to pagan days.

The cookies here are chewy, dense, and sweet, the sort of almond cookies every Sicilian bakery offers. They can be studded with pine nuts or enriched with chopped nuts. For best results, I suggest that you weigh the almonds and sugar rather than measuring by volume, as the amounts will be consistent every time. And when making this dough, remember not to add all of the egg whites; add only as much as needed for the dough to come together. If you add too much egg white, the dough will be too liquid, and the cookies will flatten and spread while baking; while they will still be delicious, they will be crisp rather than chewy. Since the cookies harden as they cool, don’t overbake them; once they are set and blistered (they will still be pale), they are done.

Makes 2 dozen cookies

  • 8 ounces blanched almonds
  • 8 ounces granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 and ½ teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 large egg whites, beaten to blend
  • ½ cup confectioner’s sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees (preferably set on convection bake).

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place the almonds in a food processor. Add the sugar and salt, and process to a very fine powder, about 2 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the honey and almond extract.

Place the ground almond mixture in a bowl. Stir in the honey mixture with a fork. Add just enough egg white to make a mixture that holds together when compressed firmly between your fingers. Do not add too much egg white or the cookies will flatten and lose their shape as they bake (even a teaspoon too much egg white will yield flat cookies, so be careful at this step).

Turn the dough out on a counter and knead for 1 to 2 minutes, forming a cohesive dough. Dust the counter with the confectioner’s sugar.

Working on top of the confectioner’s sugar, roll into a 2-inch-wide log. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces, roll each piece into a ball, and place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Pinch the top of each cookie twice between your thumb and index finger, creating four small indentations.

(If making pine nut cookies, at this point you shjuld insert about 6 pine nuts into each cookie, pointy side down. Press gently to imbed the nuts into the cookies.)

Bake the cookies for 7 minutes, or until set and blistery and still white. Do not overbake: these cookies should be moist and chewy, not dry, and should not take on any color. (It is best to err on the side of underbaking; the cookies will dry as they cool.)

Cool on a rack. Store in airtight tins up to 2 weeks.

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Swiss Chard & Pecorino Crespelle

Cooks in the Italian countryside often make simple crespelle (the Italian word for crepes) with flour and water only, no eggs or milk or fats added. The result is a slightly chewy, hearty wrapper that best encases sharp cheeses such as Pecorino, or a thin slice of salty Prosciutto, or, as below, a garlic-laced vegetable filling.

I serve these crespelle as a vegetarian main course when I am inspired by the greens at the market; broccoli raab, Swiss chard, spinach, beet greens, or escarole all work well. You can even combine a few different greens to obtain a more complex flavor.

The crespelle can be made up to 12 hours ahead and kept covered with plastic wrap at room temperature until needed. Leftovers can be refrigerated up to 2 days in a tightly sealed plastic bag, but my guess is, there won’t be any leftovers once you try these!

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer

For the crespelle:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup room-temperature water, plus extra as needed
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

For the filling:

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves only, thoroughly washed and chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1 garlic clove, very finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ounce (1/4 cup) freshly grated Pecorino Romano

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Make the crespelle: Sift the flour and salt into a medium bowl. Whisking all the while, beat in enough warm water (about 1 cup) to make a smooth, fluid, fairly thin batter that flows like heavy cream. Strain through a sieve into a clean bowl.

Heat an 8-inch round cast iron or nonstick skillet over high heat. Brush very lightly with some of the olive oil, and pour in about 1/4 cup or so of the batter (measure first, but use a ladle to spoon it into the pan for ease), tilting the pan immediately to spread it all the way to the edges. (If the batter does not spread easily, thin it out with additional water.) The batter should barely cover the base of the skillet, or else the crespelle will be too thick and therefore tough.

Cook 3 minutes, or until lightly crisp around the edges and spotted lightly on the bottom. Turn and cook the other side for 1 minute, or until lightly speckled with brown spots. Remove to a plate; continue with the remaining batter, making (ideally) eight crespelle in all.

Make the filling: Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of the salt and drop in the chard leaves. Cook 5 minutes, or until soft. Drain, cool under running water, and squeeze dry. Chop finely and place in a bowl. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, the garlic, chili, olive oil, and Pecorino. Stir well and taste for seasoning; adjust as needed.

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Arrange the crespelle in a single layer on a tray. Top evenly with some of the filling, fold into quarters, and enjoy.

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