Southern California has a smell. It smells of the sea, and of desert rains and of redroot blooms and mesquite blossoms. It has a certain quality of light that is slightly dusty and slightly orange, unlike the light in San Francisco which is blue and in Tuscany which is yellow-er and in Britain which is silver. And it has a flavour. Of dust and of rose petals and sages and mugwort and cottonwood leaves and sweet everlasting.
And I love using those flavours in the things I cook. It should never be overwhelming- in the way that rosemary on your lamb shouldn't be overwhelming. More like a subtle hint, a reminder of place. Italian and Provencal cookery books are great for those of us who are lucky enough to live in a Mediterranean climate. These people have been doing it for a really long time, using the herbs that grow near them, and in a similar climate, it's really easy to make substitutions.
I'd been eyeing these pine nut and rosemary biscotti from the American Academy in Rome Biscotti book for ages. One of those books that I'll flip through, bookmark another recipe, and then forget about for another few weeks. I've never been the type who finds the recipes and then goes out for the ingredients; rather I'll be inspired by something I have, and then want to make something that's a little bit like a recipe I saw somewhere. Then ensues the process of pulling out all the cookbooks I have trying to remember where exactly I saw it, and by the time Jam makes it downstairs to see what's going on, it looks like a tornado has ripped its way through my office, into the kitchen. The other day, as I came in with a big crop of white sage and dropped it on my desk, the aroma wafted up around my head, as aromas do, and the first thing I thought about was biscotti.
These biscotti are delicious. Perfectly crunchy and the sage cuts through the sweetness ever so slightly without overwhelming. If you have white sage on hand, I encourage you to try it. But if you don't, it's ok. The original recipe calls for rosemary. You could also try regular garden sage, or lavender, or another aromatic herb of your choosing.
White Sage and Pine Nut Biscotti
Adapted from "Biscotti"
3/4 cup pine nuts
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour (I used my own all purpose gluten free flour blend, substituting white rice flour for 1/4 cup)
2 tb fine cornmeal
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tb white sage, minced (or aromatic herb of your choice- the original calls for rosemary, I think it'd be amazing with lavender too)
5 tb butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup + 2 tb granulated sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp marsala
Preheat the oven to 300. Spread the pine nuts out on a baking sheet, and roast for 10 minutes or so, until they're golden brown.
Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar in a mixer on high speed, until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat for another 30 seconds or so. Slow down the mixer, add the marsala, sage and lemon zest, then stop mixing.
In a blender, pulse the roasted pine nuts a few times until they're about a quarter of their original size. Combine with the rest of the dry ingredients, and add to the batter in two batches, mixing at slow speed to incorporate. As soon as the flour is mixed in, stop mixing and turn it out onto the counter (by the way, if you're using gluten free flour you don't need to worry so much about this, but using a regular wheat flour, don't overmix or the texture will be weird).
Press the mixture together, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Raise oven temperature to 350.
After 15 minutes, split the dough into two chunks, and press each one into a long log-shape- about 1 1/2" high in the middle, tapering out towards the edges.
Bake them for 20-25 minutes, then remove them from the oven and allow to cool completely. Then, slice each log into biscotti-shaped pieces, about 1" wide. Standing them upright, bake them again for 6-10 minutes, until they're slightly golden brown. They'll harden up as they cool.
Will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 months.