Biscotti

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Biscotti al Pistacchio RecipeOctober 20, 2010 | 80 Comments I'm not quite sure where to begin today's post. Maybe it's best to start at the end? Let's try. By 11:30 on one of my last mornings in Rome I found myself walking down the Janiculum hill toward the Trastevere section of the city below. The view is expansive, and I would stop now and then to pick out buildings and landmarks, or takethe occasional snapshot. My bag was heavy, and a glance inside revealed a just-picked pomegranate, two books and a kraft-paper bag filled with a toasty pepita and amaranth-flecked granola. I spent the morning visiting Mona Talbott at the American Academy in Rome, and I'm sure it is no surprise to those of you who know Mona or her work - it was one of the most inspiring mornings I've had in a longtime.

The American Academy in Rome weaves itself into my life now and then. Years back, when I would help research potential speakers for TED, I would regularly spend time exploring the work of Rome Prize winners. And prior to that, I fell for this delightful little "insider" guidebook of must-visit places in Rome. It was compiled from the collective knowledge of many academy fellows andfriends - a mix of writers, architects, designers, scholars, and the like. My copy is nearly ten years old, and it's the one book we still bring along whenever we pass through Rome.
But, back to the academy. There are some really cool things going on there. One of which is the Rome Sustainable Food Project. You can read about it in depth here, and here, and here. In a nutshell, it's one of the fewplaces I've encountered where institutional dining is not only worth celebrating, but potentially worth emulating as well. Alice Waters and Mona Talbott have been successful in working within the academy to create a meaningful food culture meant to nourish and support individual well-being, scholarship, and conviviality. Amen. Maybe some of you will feel compelled to argue a counterpoint here, but myexperience has been that institutional dining has much need for improvement. Inspiration is much needed, and it was great to encounter it so far from home.

Actually, another inspiring example of food being integrated into the fabric of an institution is at the Oxbow School in Napa, California. Here's a post I did in 2005 about their school lunch (under chef Tracy Bates). There's still no placeI'd rather have lunch in Napa, alongside the kids, overlooking the river. And I don't think it's any coincidence that Mona and Tracy are friends, or that both of them are Chez Panisse alumni.

Mona showed me the kitchen, and the gardens, and the spot on the lawn where Galileo first demonstrated his telescope in Rome - the academy occupies the highest point inside the walls of historic Rome. Thetalented Elizabeth Minchilli joined us, I met the other academy cooks, had a perfect macchiato, and tasted a spicy little gem of a cookie baked by Mirella Misenti. Mirella's story is fascinating in it's own right. She was the dishwasher at the academy. She now spearheads pastry and has co-authored Biscotti with Mona. It's the just-published first book in a series of tiny, thoughtful books that wewill see come out of the Rome Sustainable Food Project. It sounds like there there will be a volume on salads, and one on soup, and others beyond that. You can see some of the spreads from Biscotti here. I baked up Mirella's Sicilian pistachio cookies as soon as I got home. They look snow-dusted from a distance, but reveal dense, pistachio-green insides after a bite. I include the recipe downbelow.

I'd be hard-pressed to think of a better way to wrap up a three-week trip. Thank you Mona. I look forward to cooking with you someday, or washing dishes, or whatever it takes to hang out in your kitchen. In the meantime, I'm excited to bake more from Biscotti, and I'm always game for testing soup recipes. I imagine I'll also be busy trying to reverse-engineer your granola.
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