Friday, February 02, 2007

Arance della salute...e biscotti

Last Saturday, Slow Food partnered with other organizations for Le Arance della Salute. In piazzas all over Italia, volunteers sold three-kilo bags of Sicilian blood oranges with the profits to benefit the work of the Italian Association for Cancer Research. While walking my three-kilos home, I brainstormed ways to use up so many delicious oranges in short order. That turned out to be no problem. The juicy, red fruit was sweet and went well with every meal. So I set out to use a part of the orange I'd otherwise have thrown away. These cookies have orange zest in the pastry and in the spiced fig filling. Like the oranges, they reminded me of Christmas and were fun to make on a bright, cold day in Parma. I enjoyed listening to episodes of From the Top while pressing the dough, rolling the filling, and pulling pans from the oven.

On Wednesday, two of my fellow UNISG students had a group of us over for dinner and a smelling party. Classes that afternoon had us tasting no less than 22 types of cured meat. The last two were pure cured lard -- delicious but almost more than I could take at that point. So our hostesses' cool, fresh gazpacho and zucchini-potato pancakes with tzatziki hit the spot. We also tested our noses by trying to identify several of the 54 aromas common in wines. From fruits and herbs to baking bread, fir tree, and even animal musk, I did much more guessing than I would have liked. I supposed that means I should study more (and drink more wine).

Orange Zest and Almost Cookies with Spiced Fig
For the pastry: Cream about a 1/2 cup butter with a little more than 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Mix in the zest of one orange and 1 beaten egg. Toast about 1 cup of blanched, unsalted almonds. When cool, ground the almonds into a relatively fine flour. In a separate bowl, mix the almond flour, a little more than 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking soda, and a pinch of salt. Combine the dry ingredients into the batter. Cover the dough and refrigerate until chilled completely.

For the filling: Put about 20 dried figs into a medium pot. (Any variety that you like will do. Just be sure any stems are cut off.) Pour port (a ruby port is just fine) into the pot until the figs are covered. Add a dash of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg (freshly grated is best), and salt. Mix in the zest of one orange and sugar according to taste (I usually add a little more than 1/8 cup). Stew the figs in the port mixture over low heat until they're quite soft and have absorbed most of the liquid -- should take about 30-40 minutes. Cool the figs to room temperature and then run them through a food processor to get a seedy, smooth, thick paste. Refrigerate the fig paste until chilled completely.

Make about flat rounds about two-inches in diameter out of the chilled pastry. Roll it out and cut the rounds with a glass or biscuit cutter or roll pieces of the dough into balls a little smaller than a ping pong ball and then flatten the dough ball between two pieces of plastic wrap. Use two tea spoons to form a little egg-shaped piece of the fig paste. Lay the paste onto the pastry round and bring up the edges around the long sides of the "egg" of fig filling.

You might make one pan-full of cookies and then put the pastry and filling back into the fridge to keep cool while you bake the cookies at about 350F for 10 minutes.


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