Hazelnut Fig Biscotti for Old Souls

My younger brother just turned twenty-two.  What do you give a strapping Italian male who acts like he’s eighty and desperately tries to subvert his birthday each year?  Why, you give him biscotti. 

Well, first you stalk him until he gives you his new address.  You say that he’s only making it harder on himself.  That he’s prolonging the inevitable.  That he might as well just give up, give out the goods, and get it over with. (And then you promise that you won’t mail anything too ridiculous.)

Sending something edible tends to be a good idea in a delicate scenario such as this one.  I have had these cookies on my “t0-make” list.  But I pictured a giant eye roll at the sight of a box of snickerdoodles.  So I settled in on biscotti.

And I’ll be honest.  I wasn’t sold on these guys when I first made them.  I had to bake them for so much longer than the recipe said, such a long time that I thought I sent the poor souls to an early grave.

But the next morning, I noticed an almost breakfast toast quality to them.  Like a piece buttered and scattered with cinnamon sugar.  With a little more of a snap. 

The toasted sugars from the second baking, once cooled, deepened the cookie and mellowed its spices. And, when dunked into a cup of coffee with a little cream, it offered about as much comfort as any cookie can.  So much so, that I made another batch this weekend.

This time, I just halved the hazelnuts and chopped the figs by hand, instead of blending some of the fruit and nuts in a food processor as the recipe originally suggested.  It resulted in a sliced cookie that was a little shaggier, a bit homier, but with a fig and hazelnut flavor that was more pronounced.  Either way, they promise a toasty gingersnap presence that will warm the souls of cranky old men.

So, little brother, I hope you didn’t give out a decoy address.  And if you did, I wish whoever is living in apartment 11C to be as old-souled as you are.  Make your birthdays be filled with biscotti for years and years to come.


Hazelnut Fig Biscotti
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen by way of The Babbo Cookbook


1 cup of whole hazelnuts
8 large Turkish (dried) figs, cut into small bite-sized pieces
¾ stick unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup granulated sugar, plus a few extra tbsp for dusting the dough
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp dark brown sugar, lightly packed
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract
grated zest of a medium-sized orange
1¾ cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
3-4 cardamom pods, smashed, shelled removed, and seeds ground (a scant ¼ tsp ground)
dash of ground ginger
1 egg white


To prepare the hazelnuts

Before you do anything, you’ll want to remove the skins of the hazelnuts.  (I suppose you could leave them on, but a birthday is as good a reason as any to spend the extra time and skin them.)  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place the hazelnuts on an ungreased cookie sheet and toast them until you can smell them and their skins start to crack.  Remove the skins by placing the hot nuts in a dish towel and rubbing them together.  You’ll get about eighty percent of the skins off and will have to spend a little time removing the rest (it’s okay if you can’t get the final few off, just leave them out). Then slice the hazelnuts in half.

To make the biscotti

In a bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy; add the eggs, one at a time.  Add in the extracts and grated zest and stir with a rubber spatula until well incorporated.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.  Slowly beat the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, until the majority of the flour has been well incorporated.  Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and add in the fig pieces and sliced hazelnuts and stir until well combined (there should not be any flour still visible).  The dough will be fairly firm and will be heavily studded with nuts and fruit.  Wrap it in plastic wrap and chill it until firm (about an hour).

After about 45 minutes, preheat the oven to 325 degrees and grease a cookie sheet with butter.  Whip an egg white with a wire whisk until foamy. When the dough is ready, roll the dough out on a floured surface until it is roughly the length of your cookie sheet and about five inches wide (you can do this gently with your hands).  Place the dough log on your cookie sheet, brush it with the egg white (you’ll have some leftover), and then scatter generously with sugar.  Bake for 20-45 minutes (the recipe said 20, but it seems to need a bit longer: for me it was closer to 45 minutes).  Once the log turns golden brown, is firm to the touch, and starts to crack: it’s ready. 

Let it fully cool and then slice the biscotti on a bias into roughly ½ inch slices.  Lay the slices sideways on the cookie sheet and cook them at 250 degrees until they turn a deeper brown, crisp up, become completely dried out. (This took me about an hour.)  You’ll probably want to start checking after 30 minutes and turn the cookies over from time to time so that they brown evenly on both sides.  Allow them to cool fully, ideally overnight.

Makes 15-20 cookies

-I’ve already eaten five six since last night (oops). Technically, they'll keep at least a week in a ziplock bag or airtight container.

-These guys are lovely super crisp, so be patient with the second baking.  Here is the recipe I used from Smitten Kitchen (with pictures).  And, if chocolate is more your speed, try these guys, courtesy of grandma.


Romancing Dinner, a Cauliflower Sandwich with Raisin Caper Sauce

Bluefish.  Donut peaches wrapped in prosciutto, glazed in maple, and grilled. Butter lettuce with buttermilk basil dressing.  Heady Toppers from Vermont.

Homemade hot dogs in buttered, pan-toasted brioche buns.  A bottle of my favorite rosé, ZeC Vin de France from Château Tour Grise with “House of the Rising Sun” in the background.

Steamed pork and cabbage dumplings. Spicy beef tongue. Sautéed bitter melon. Hot tea and a Tsingtao in Chinatown.

Paper-thin radish rounds with raw tuna and fluke, sliced by a knife made by a man in Japan. Eaten at 10 pm in the dark on a patio table with the light of a half lit lantern.

Handmade fettuccini tossed with cooked down fairytale eggplants and heirloom tomatoes.

Fried cauliflower. Fried Japanese sweet potatoes so hot they blister the inside of your mouth. Charred octopus and dirty rice.

Cast-iron cooked rib-eye with a salad of tomatoes, peaches, and torn basil.

A bottle of bubbly from the Loire as dinner. Overlooking sailboats.

Fried chicken skins.  Grilled romaine salad.  Chicken liver mousse on toast. 

This is how you do it.  This is how you romance dinner.

The sandwich I am writing about today is special.  I had its bones scribbled down in a kitchen notebook months ago.  Months before I met the man I am now dating.  The dinners above we shared.  The sandwich recipe is his. Both the man and his recipe came to me by way of a mutual friend.  Both unexpected.  Simple in preparation.  And yet complex in all the right ways. 

A sauce of capers and plumped raisins with some jalapeño heat. Anchored by buttery cauliflower.  Topped with a sharp sheep’s milk feta.  Sandwiched between smoky homemade flatbread. 

What is listed below is my interpretation of his recipe. A meal from a man I’ve been enjoying for months.

P.s. Check out my article in the fall issue of edibleBoston.  It’s about making homemade sea salt and includes some recipes from pastry chef, and matchmaker, Brian Mercury.  He introduced me to this sandwich after we collected seawater from Maine to make the salt.  The introduction to his friend came later.

Cauliflower Sandwich with Raisin Caper Sauce


For the cauliflower steaks

a head of cauliflower, you will have extra
olive oil

For the raisin caper sauce

about 1 tbsp butter
a jalapeño or serrano pepper, chopped with the seeds (you can remove the seeds for less heat)
about 1/3 cup raisins
1-2 tbsp capers, plus a little of their brine
a few tbsp apple cider vinegar

For the flatbread

see instructions below (prepare ahead)
or use store-bought pita bread or homemade pita, recipe here

Suggested toppings

sheep’s milk feta
leaf lettuce


To make the flatbread (if doing so) make the dough as described here.  Once the dough has risen (which will take about an hour), with floured hands, divide it into four equal pieces.  Prepare your grill; if you are using charcoal it will take about 20 minutes to get the coals ready for grilling, but you’ll want to use a part of the grill with medium-ish heat (i.e. you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grate for about 3-5 seconds), so be sure to seek out a part of the grill that isn’t super hot. 

Stretch each piece of dough with your hands until it is about 9 or 10 inches in length.  Place it on the grill until it starts to bubble (this will take 1-2 minutes).  Flip the dough with a spatula and continue to cook the flatbread another minute or so.  (This process happens quickly.  The flatbread will only have a little color to it; it should be fully cooked, but still soft.  If you wish, you can also brush the flatbread with a little olive oil after you’ve flipped it.) 

Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough (you may be able to do more than one piece at a time, depending on if you are grilling other things as well).  Technically, this will make enough for eight sandwiches.  I put the leftover flatbread in my freezer once they cool and use the microwave to defrost them as needed.

To prepare the rest of the sandwich, slice the head of the cauliflower so that you get “steaks,” about 3-4 inches in length and no more than a ½ inch thick; it needs to fully cook in a sauté pan so the steaks should be fairly thin.  Pour a glug or so of olive oil into a hot pan and add a teaspoon or two of butter.  Place a few of the cut cauliflower steaks in the pan, but don’t crowd them.  Season with salt.  When the cauliflower is browned on its underside, flip it, and season the other side.  Cook the cauliflower until browned on both sides and fully cooked.  Don’t move it too much in the process, let it caramelize.  Repeat until you have cooked as much of the cauliflower as you want. (This will depend on the number of sandwiches you are making, figure two to three steaks per sandwich.)

While the cauliflower is cooking, prepare the sauce.  Heat the butter in a pan.  Add the chopped pepper, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally until it starts to soften.  Add the raisins, capers, plus a little of their juice, and the vinegar.  Let everything cook down a bit until the raisins start to plump, adding a little water if things look dry.  (You may also add a little more vinegar too, just taste before you do to make sure the sauce won't be too acidic, if you think it might be, stick to water.)  Taste and add more salt, if needed.  Once the sauce is as you wish—it should be salty, sweet, and have some heat to it—blend it together in a food processor or blender; here you could also add a little water (or vinegar if it needs a little perking) if it could use a bit more liquid.  Set aside.

To assemble the sandwich, cut a flatbread in half so that you have two pieces each about 5 inches in length.  Using one piece, place a few cauliflower steaks on the bottom half of the flatbread; top with a tablespoon or so of the caper raisin sauce, 1-2 ounces of feta, and a few slices of leaf lettuce and fold the top half of flatbread over the contents of the sandwich.  (If you are using pita, just place some cauliflower, sauce, feta, and lettuce in each of the pita halves.)

The yield for this recipe is variable.  You can make one sandwich and have leftovers.  You can make more than one sandwich.  (You should have enough sauce for at least 4 sandwiches.)

-This looks like a lot of steps, but much of it is for the flatbread.  Sub in premade pita and you’ll have your sandwich in 20 minutes or so.  

-This is another recipe that’s easily tailored to preference, so treat it as a suggestion.  This is an interpretation of an interpretation of a loose interpretation of a sandwich from Clover.

-The fried Japanese sweet potatoes are amazing.  They are from Strip-T's, which has easily produced some of my favorite dishes in Boston.  Oops, it’s in Watertown. 

-The chicken skins, chicken mousse, etc. came by way of The Salty Pig.  It’s also a fantastic restaurant and worth checking out if you haven’t been yet.  Like the Salty Pig?  Try Canary Square.  They are doing some pretty amazing things. It's in Jamaica Plain.  And you should go.  Lastly, the Zec wine was from my favorite wine shop in Boston: The Wine Bottega.


Jalapeño Hot Sauce, the Heat and the Flame

Yes, I’m speaking to you, Habanero enthusiast.  Friend of the Serrano.  Lover of the Scotch Bonnet.   

You who believe that a little heartburn can make a person feel alive.  You who used to search out fireballs as a small child and who can now name all the bars in the city where hot and dirty gin martinis are consumed. You who enjoy Modelo Especials with Tabasco, salt, and lime.  You who have cried after consuming a Ghost Pepper.  And liked it.  

Amigo. We are going to get along fine.  And I have a hot sauce for you.

The recipe is simple.  One.  Find someone with a charcoal grill. Bribe with beer, if necessary. 

Two.  Hit up a local famers’ market on a mission for peppers.  Government Center. Copley Plaza. Harvard Square.  These are all places I’ve frequented in the past week.  Not possible?  Your local Ralphs likely has some too. 

Three. Buy up a bunch.  As much as you think is necessary.  As much as you think you can humanly take.  And then get a little more. 

Four.  Light grill.  Grill peppers.  Drink some beers with your new friends that came with the charcoal grill. 

Five.  Blend the peppers with white vinegar, garlic, and a little salt.  Pour into any number of bottles.  You’re done.

You can probably extend this hot sauce to any number of peppers. I like jalapeños because when grilled, they leave you with a floral note.  They transform handsomely. 

As for the charcoal?  I just so happen to have a charcoal grill.  I believe in charcoal.  I believe in fighting with an open flame like I believe in fighting with chile heat.  I like a challenge.  I’m also told—by a fellow heathen for hot sauce—that the jalapeño doesn’t have consistent heat.  It varies a bit from pepper to pepper.  It’s unpredictable.  And I like that too.  Capricious flames, have at it.

Jalapeño Hot Sauce


about 5 jalapeños
olive or canola oil
kosher salt
1 clove garlic
a few tbsp of white vinegar (just enough to get the jalapeños to a thick liquid consistency)


Prepare your grill.  Toss the jalapeños with enough oil so they have a gloss to them and won’t stick to the grill; season with salt.  Grill them on a medium-hot grill (you shouldn’t be able to hold your hand five inches above the grill for more than 3-4 seconds). 

Grill the peppers until they are well charred and have shrived down slightly.  Once they have cooled a bit, remove the stems (the seeds should come with them too) and whirl them in a food processor or blender with the garlic clove until well pulverized.  (You may also wish to do this step another day with cold, refrigerated peppers.  Using cold peppers will allow you to taste the hot sauce as it will be consumed and you may have better luck with seasoning this way.) Add a tablespoon or two of vinegar and a pinch or two of salt to the pepper mixture and blend to combine.  

Check the consistency and flavor by adding more vinegar and adjusting for salt, as needed; the salt will help coax out the flavor of the peppers, so taste as you go.

Makes about half a cup

-You’re going to want to pretty much char the living daylights out of this pepper.  It should be dark green and blackened in spots and should shrink and shrivel down slightly from the heat of the flames. (The peppers will deflate more once they are removed from the heat.)

-A gas grill would work just fine too here.  You could try roasting the peppers at a high temp or broiling them in an oven, but it will lack that certain smoky quality a grill provides.  If you have a gas range you could even try charring the peppers that way, on the stovetop.

-We’re deep in hot pepper season, so now is the perfect time to bottle some up before summer officially ends.  I can’t guarantee what would happen with canning the sauce, but I’ve been keeping some in a jar in my fridge.  I’m thinking of trying this with Habaneros soon too before the season closes.

-If you’d like to make more sauce, just up the ratios of everything.  (Depending on your love of raw garlic, you might want to keep it at 1 clove unless you plan to drastically increase your yield.)


Loose Vermouth Cherry Tomatoes, Caramelized, and Yours for the Evening

These tomatoes are studs.  Let’s not mince words about it.  They are tomatoes about town.

They’re bowtied with thyme and lemon verbena, appropriately liquored up with a little vermouth.  And they come to you with loose dinner plate morals, hardly capable of sticking to one dish.  

They were spread on charcoal-grilled flatbread. They were smashed on a rosemary boule slice over a thin layer of goat cheese. They cozied up nicely with a melty ten-dollar burrata

They were even thrown impulsively into a workday lacinato kale salad designed to swallow up dinner leftovers.  I have wanted to toss them with homemade fettuccini and some thick low count shrimp, but they have yet to make the leap to full dinner fork-on-plate contact. Gone before the pasta water could reach a rolling boil. 

So thus far, they’ve been capable of staying only long enough for antipasti.  No matter.  Not every tomato dish you meet can be lasagna.  Sure, they’re homey enough.  For a night.  Don’t expect comfy leftovers.  They’re drinking in the vermouth.  And they’re sneaking out the door at five am.

What they’ll do is dress up anything in need of momentary glitz.  They go into a hot pan with some extra virgin until they start to bust their guts.  Then in goes the vermouth and a spoonful of sugar of an unrefined sort.  Think demerara.  Muscovado.  Even a simple brown will do.  When the sugar cooks down, they’re ready. 

Just take these guys for what they are.  A light tomato primer with a hint of caramelized sweetness and just a bit depth, courtesy of a nice thin veil of booze.  Ready to go on a moment’s notice.  Easy to make, again and again.  And perfect for using up the last lingering orbs on a cherry tomato plant. 

Low hanging fruit?  Sure.  But sometimes that’s just what you need to close out summer.

Vermouth Cherry Tomatoes, Caramelized
Adapted from Food52


a few glugs of olive oil
pint of cherry tomatoes
kosher salt
2-4 tbsp vermouth (I used Rosso)
1-2 tbsp of a brown sugar (like muscovado)
a few sprigs of lemon verbena
a few sprigs of thyme


Get a sauté pan fairly hot and add in a few glugs of olive oil and then dump in your cherry tomatoes.  (You want enough olive oil to put a nice gloss on your tomatoes, so add more as needed.)  Salt your tomatoes and let them cook down, tossing them in the pan every so often, until the tomatoes start to bust open; this will take about 10 minutes, give or take.

Once the tomatoes start to split, take the pan off the heat and add the vermouth, starting with a few tablespoons.  Put the pan back on the heat to let the vermouth cook down, add a little more vermouth (you could also use water here) if the tomatoes start to stick or dry up.  Once the majority of the liquid has been cooked off, add in the brown sugar, shaking the pan to distribute it.  Let the sugar dissolve and coat the tomatoes, this should only take a few minutes.  (Again, add more liquid if your tomatoes are looking parched.) 

Add the lemon verbena and thyme leaves.  Taste the tomatoes and add a little more vermouth, sugar, and/or salt, as you see fit. (If you decide to add a little more vermouth, you’ll need to let it cook down again but this should only take a few minutes.)  From here on out, the tomatoes are ready when you say so.  (I like the tomatoes to have softened and split, while still holding on to their shape.)  Top with a few more herb leaves, if desired.

Makes about a cup

-This is another recipe that functions best in a “splash of this” “dash of that” fashion. Because cherry tomatoes may vary in sweetness or acidity you may find you need slightly more vermouth and a little less sugar or vice versa.  The sweetness will also depend on the type of vermouth you use, Rosso being on the sweeter side of things.  It’s not a recipe to be taken too seriously, so adapt as you go.

-A number of herbs could work here. Oregano would likely do good things.  Food52 suggests marjoram.  I tried basil one round, but found it made the tomatoes a tad too sweet for my taste.  The dish benefits from an herb with a little more contrast.

-The lovely people at Food52 featured these guys with baked ricotta and goat cheese earlier this summer.  The combination sounds great.  But I haven’t gotten there yet.