When you really think about it, it’s quite amazing how many great recipes came out of old Italian kitchens.
Especially the sweet (baked) goodies. In today’s modern kitchens, most people who are proficient at baking understand the science behind baking. Anyone who may be relatively new to baking knows that measurements are exact for a reason – because it’s a science. But, for anyone who has been in the kitchen for a while (aka me) and has baked for years, you begin to understand what certain amounts “feel” like. I can tell you how much, roughly, a teaspoon of baking powder looks like in my hand; I can tell you if an egg is a tad too small and if it makes sense to add another (or maybe just a yolk); I can see how much a cup of flour looks like in a bowl….but that comes from years of baking…almost every single day.
That whole “10,000 hour rule” of how long it takes for you to do something before you become a professional at it, makes real sense. And, in the case of our grandmothers, they definitely reached the 10,000 hours before any of today’s modern day housewives. I can say this with conviction, not because I think our grandmothers were better bakers…I say it solely because they didn’t have the option of going to a “day job” or having a leisurely lunch with a friend. They did what they knew. They cooked for their families. Maybe because they loved it. Maybe because there wasn’t a multitude of other “fun” things to do instead. It might be the reason why most of the recipes that I’ve dug up say “a bit of this” or a “pinch of that” and, my all time favourite “enough flour”…what housewife back in the day wouldn’t have understood that??
It really says something about the skill that women had in the kitchen (and I say women because generations ago, men generally didn’t have a place in the home kitchen). My grandmother’s generation were skilled bakers and were adept in making do with what they had, and most times, whipping up dishes that would be considered “incredible” on today’s table. Rustic breads cooked to perfection each time – in a wood burning oven without electric heat, belly filling tarts that made use of the season’s last fruits, carb-heavy cookies that were sometimes made with some pretty unusual ingredients by today’s standards.
A good example of this are these cookies that are made with pureed chickpeas (which make sense because dried beans were always a staple in the pantry, and if there were any leftover after a dinner of soothing bean soup, they could be used to make these sweet treats the next day). Chocolate was a rare treat but, the mashed beans extended the filing a bit so it made more of a good thing – Italian farmers were always masters at that!! And, even more unusual than the chickpea filling is what was used to thin out cookie fillings. Today, Italian dessert recipes that have been converted (and properly measured) usually use ingredients like coffee or marsala or vermouth to thin out fillings. But, back in the day, what was generally used was pig’s blood.
Yup, you heard right.
It was free (after the sausages were made) so they made the most of it. Sanguinaccio dulce is probably the most popular pigs blood dessert (which is a pudding) but it was used in so many other ways.
Don’t worry. If you’re freaking out a bit, you can always pretend you didn’t even read that part and just head to your local liquor store for some vermouth!!
It all good!
The cookies begin with a pasta like dough (sweeter, of course) that is passed through a pasta machine (or rolled by hand), dolloped with some of the filling …
…pinched together like so…
And then fried up nice and crisp!
Once they’re cooked, they are topped with some icing sugar (remember, they really aren’t that sweet!) and enjoyed with a cup of espresso!!
They are a pretty addition to a holiday table (we used to have them at Easter and Christmas…generally when there may have been some leftover chocolate)
If you have anyone who is from central Italy (my dad is from Abruzzo so people from any of the regions surrounding Abruzzo will know these cookies…and if they don’t, they will get nostalgic anyways when you tell them my story!!)
Yes they are a bit more involved than your typical chocolate chip cookie, but you might make someone missing the beauty of Italy very happy if you try them!!
- 500g bread flour, and more for rolling
- 100g olive oil
- 100g dry vermouth (you can use dry white wine or even marsala)
- 3 eggs
- zest of one lemon
- 240g chickpeas, drained
- 160g ground almonds
- 80g dark chocolate, chopped
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp grape or blueberry jam
- To finish:
- Powdered sugar
- vegetable oil for frying
- In a food processor, blend the dough ingredients (flour, olive oil, vermouth, eggs and zest); when the dough comes together in a ball, remove from the food processor, wrap in plastic wrap and let rest while you make the filling.
- In the same food processor, puree chickpeas for about a minute and then add the remaining ingredients; blend until smooth.
- Once rested, dust dough with some additional flour and roll through a pasta machine (only roll to the second last thickness) or by hand until the dough is thin (imagine ravioli dough).
- Cut into circles with a cutter (you an also use a small knife to cut around a glass placed upside down on the dough to create a circle); spoon about 1 large tablespoon of filling onto each round, wet the edges by dipping your finger into a glass of water and then running it along the edge before closing and pressing to ensure the filling doesn't come out.
- In a saucepan, heat oil to about 360F (or until a small piece of dough dropped in begins to bubble and rises up to the top); about 4-5 at a time, place raw cookies into the hot oil and turn them over until golden.
- Remove them to a paper-lined plate (to absorb the oil) and sprinkle with powdered sugar; continue until all the cookies are fried (alternatively, you can freeze the uncooked ones - just defrost at room temp before frying)
- Serve warm or at room temperature. Store remaining cookies in a sealed container.