Last week at home on the farm it stormed. The thunderstorm was sudden and intense, like most summer storms. They sweep in from nowhere. The sky stays blue and bright until just before it starts. The only warning is a subtle change in the atmosphere --- the air feels damp and crackles in anticipation as if with some secret electric charge. Clouds gather quickly. The temperature drops ten degrees. A few raindrops fall, becoming a constant patter, and then sheets of water sluice down from above. The rain is so heavy that your shirt soaks through when you dash outside to check your car windows.
The first crack of thunder is so loud and close that I feel it in my chest. Lightning stripes the entire sky: once, twice, then four more times in quick succession.
I’m cozily curled up in an armchair. The kitchen is brightly lit and I’ve got a glass of white wine in my hand. It’s mixed with seltzer water – because that’s how my mom drinks it and she understands the wisdom of a spritzer even if the rest of the world thinks they’re cheesy.
We’re having salad (tossed with last summer’s pickled beets and green beans and this morning’s eggs, hard-boiled). My mom has a clever trick for salad dressing: she mixes the bright pink pickling juice from the beet jar with a little balsamic and some olive oil. It’s acidic and a little sweet and salty, too.
Next to the salad, we have lentil balls (from this very excellent Meatball Shop recipe, courtesy of the NYT). Yes, it’s a funny name.
There’s such an unhurried, elemental atmosphere to meals together. It’s not about the recipe, or discussing it, or praising it (although we often do). My mom cooks because she has four daughters to feed, and she has always fed us well. We use what we have in the kitchen, as well as what we’ve made or grown or gathered. Inspiration comes rarely from a recipe or book, but rather from necessity or proximity.
Dessert, however, is driven by comfort and routine. Biscotti is a must after dinner, and it’s made the traditional Italian way (no butter and no oil). They’re best when dunked in a cup of very creamy milk. Here’s the recipe, with a few notes as it is a surprisingly tricky technique to master.
Chocolate Pecan Biscotti
Notes: Beating the eggs for long enough is the key to this recipe. Don't be tempted to shortcut that step. If your eggs are cold to begin with, just put them in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes until they warm to room temperature. When shaping the loaves, it helps to use wet hands.
5 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. If you haven't toasted your nuts, just pop them in the oven for a few minutes while it preheats.
In a stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar on high speed until very light and at least doubled in volume. This will take about 5-10 minutes (longer is better!) -- you want the mixture to be exceptionally light and fluffy, like a genoise. It should form very thick ribbons when the beater is lifted. Do not skimp on this step. Gently fold in the vanilla.
Sift the dry ingredients over the egg mixture. With a spatula, fold them in. Be very, very gentle with the folding. You are aiming to keep all that airiness you just beat in with the eggs, so mixing too much in this step will deflate the batter and lead to heavy, leaden biscotti.
Fold in the toasted pecans.
Once your batter is mixed, pour it out onto a baking sheet in two evenly-sized oval "loaves", leaving about 2 or 3 inches in between. They should be about 4 inches wide and 1 inch high. The batter shouldn't spread too much.
Bake the biscotti for about 20 minutes, until the loaves just spring back at the touch. Let them cool a bit, until not too hot to touch.
Cut each loaf into 1/2-inch thick slices. Put the slices back on the baking sheet on their side, and put the baking sheet back into the oven but TURN OFF the oven.
Leave them in the turned-off oven until they are dry and crisp (at least 15 minutes -- but you can leave them in as long as you want since the oven is off and they can't overbake at this point).