These Anisette Cookies and a Pot of Coffee are a Match Made in Heaven

food, recipes

Everyone is getting engaged and married and truly I feel sorry. Because no one will have a stronger, more solid union than my great grandma’s anisette cookies and an entire pot of black coffee. Honestly, where’s that love comparison? I just want someone to compliment me the way anise biscotti compliments hot coffee. Where’s that romance?

“Ninety nine cents would get you a pound of these cookies.” Thinking about the light-weight of each crispy baked wedge made me realize the sheer volume that equates. “We would bring them home and drink a whole pot of coffee,” says my mom. It’s true, these cookies practically beg for a dunk before each bite, after which the harmonious union of coffee and anisette simply transports you to an old-fashioned Italian-American bakery of yore. So good you almost don’t feel bad about eating a few for breakfast. Oops.

This recipe, another mysterious find from my great grandma’s recipe box, was entirely written in English which could mean one of two things: it is once again not hers, or she had serious help writing it. In a comparison between this and her snippets of attempting English in other recipes, it appears that this is her handwriting. Impressive if so, but also curious. Someone definitely helped her, perhaps speaking the translation and showing her how to spell each word with some corrections on the way.

This recipe is also one of the rare recipes from the box that includes all measurements, oven temperature and a procedure. Truly miraculous when all others are written in at least two languages and have little clues pertaining to how the flour and baking powder eventually become a sponge cake. That being said, this recipe was also easy by most baking standards: add ingredients to the bowl, beating after each addition, then pouring the batter into a greased cake pan, baking until golden brown, slicing and baking again for maximum crispiness. This technically makes them biscotti.

Biscotti, though typically what Italians call a cookie, literally translates to baked twice. Most traditional biscotti have nuts or candied fruit in them and turn out just a touch drier, denser and tougher. Still absolutely delicious, but this recipe is unlike those cookies. These cookies are lighter and more tender. Still crispy, but you won’t have to clamp down on the cookie with your molars in order to take a bite. The coffee isn’t necessary to soften the cookie, it just tastes good.

I prefer espresso in general over coffee, but, as Ina Garten would probably say, if you can’t make espresso then regular coffee is just fine. Just try to resist eating them all.

My Great Grandma’s Anisette Cookies

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

3 tsp anise extract

3/4 cup cooking oil (canola oil)

1-1/2 cup flour

2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Add all ingredients in order given beating well after each addition. Pour into greased 9×13 pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from pan and slice into 1 inch strips.

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet for another 10 minutes to toast.

The Mysterious Meat Sauce

food, recipes

Bestowed unto me, a box of hand-written recipes from my great grandma’s house. Among them are time-stained index cards with recipes written in a combination of English, Italian and dialect with ambiguous instructions, cook times, measurements and temperatures. Except for one. One is written out with clear instructions and ingredients. Clearly not written by my great grandma, the recipe uses full sentences and proper Italian. My great grandma notoriously spoke broken English and wrote in that confounding amalgamation of languages that only which another immigrant could fully empathize.

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The whole sheet of loose leaf paper, speckled with pin holes as if it was passed around and pinned to bulletin boards by a number of people, contains a recipe for a luscious lasagna, including a bolognese sauce with optional mushrooms, cream and prosciutto and a buttery bechamel sauce in lieu of layers of melted cheese. Without a proper baking dish, I couldn’t make a full on lasagna, but I knew I needed to understand why this recipe of mysterious origin earned a coveted spot in the recipe box. I decided to attempt the bolognese sauce.

There’s something truly magical about cooking from a hand written recipe. Nostalgia kicks in, even if the recipe or recipe writer is unfamiliar. I felt like the essence of the author was right there with me, instructing me on how to properly brown and season the ground beef. Maybe it’s intuition, but despite never making this recipe or tasting the end result before, I knew exactly when the sauce was at it’s peak and ready to serve.

Now this recipe is by no means revolutionary. It was incredibly simple. The key, however, was in the fats. A little bit of oil and about 4 tablespoons of fat get things going. The carrots, celery and onion then cook in that rich liquid along with the beef and a good amount of salt. Then it’s a waiting game. Once the vegetables have sweat out enough liquid and the beef has cooked, tomatoes are added and the pot simmers for a hour, allowing the meat and vegetables to become soft and homogeneous and the sauce to thicken.

Good lord this rich, thick boy sticks to your bones on a winter night. The tomato sauce gains a silky texture from the rendered fat and butter and the vegetables make the whole dish sweet and complex. Rigatoni is the ideal pasta shape for bolognese, holding beefy treats within each tube. No exceptions.

Whoever wrote this recipe: thank you. This was a real treat (a beefy treat) and I can’t wait to layer this inside a lasagna.

Ragu Alla Bolognese

Olive oil

4 tbsp. butter

1 carrot, diced

1 celery stalk, diced

1 medium onion, diced

1 pound ground beef

1 – 28 oz can or jar of tomatoes (I like to use passata or pureed tomatoes)

1 pound dry rigatoni

Salt & pepper

  1. Melt the olive oil and butter in a 4 qt Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot.
  2. Once the butter is melted, add the carrot, celery and onion and salt. Cook the vegetables until soft, then add the beef. Cook everything, breaking up the ground beef and stirring until the beef is cooked, and everything is combined.
  3. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook for about an hour until the crumbled beef and diced vegetables are thoroughly mixed and the sauce is at your desired consistency.
  4. Cook the rigatoni in generously salted water to the box’s instructions. Reserve some pasta water.
  5. Combine pasta and sauce in the Dutch oven, adding pasta water if the sauce is too thick. Serve immediately with cheese.