You never can tell what might happen when you let curiosity be your guide. You too, could wind up in a hotel room drinking prosecco and eating tozzetti with a bunch of total strangers. Tozzetti? If you’re thinking they look like biscotti, you’re right, they do. But in Rome and many other places in Italy, these smaller, squat sized cookies are called tozzetti, from the word tozzo, or stubby. Here we were not in Rome, but in the Val Gardena, at our hotel in Ortisei, where guests sit at the same table for dinner each night. Next to us was a table of about a dozen men, a jovial group who became even more boisterous with laughter when this fellow came down to join them: Who was this guy dressed up as a soldier in the Red Guard? Well, I just had to ask as he walked by our table. Turns out his name is Roberto Bernardi and he bought the outfit on a business trip to China. He and about a dozen of his friends, all from the city of Treviso (where the sparkling wine prosecco is made) leave the wives at home and ski together for one week each year. The sight of Roberto in costume brought even more laughter to his already raucous group of friends, and broke the ice that started a conversation between him and the four of us at our table – me and my husband and our friends Al and Ellen. One thing, as they say, leads to another, and in this case, the conversation with Roberto led to greetings from the whole group, followed by their insistence on treating the four of us to a round of prosecco. By the time dinner was over, we had chatted and learned more about this group of men whose careers ranged a gamut of professions – lawyers, judges, accountants, a doctor, and a jewelry store owner. After dinner each night, the men gathered in one of their hotel room suites to continue discussions, watch television and enjoy more camaraderie and food. We had no hesitation saying yes when they invited the four of us to join them in their room for another round of prosecco, chocolates and other treats. That included homemade tozzetti made by Nazzareno Acquistucci, or Neno, who is a Brigadier General in the Italian Air Force. He brought these cookies with him that he had made at home: Neno’s been retired since 1996 and still flies ultralights, but he also dedicates much of his time to Italian cuisine. Neno, as it turns out, is a delegate of the Italian Academy of Cuisine, (Accademia Italiana della Cucina), a group that was formed 50 years ago with the intent on preserving traditional Italian cooking around the world. Last fall, the Academy published a cookbook on regional cuisine that you can check out here. We all enjoyed meeting these interesting and fun-loving men who spend one week together each winter skiing in Italy’s beautiful mountains. The enchanting Dolomites call us back each year as well.
But there’s another dynamic that happens whenever we ski in Italy, typified by the chance encounter that the friendly atmosphere here promotes. We were so grateful that the man in the Red Brigade happened to walk by our table and respond to our curious inquiry. We made new friends whom we left that night amid hugs, kisses, handshakes and invitations for a personal tour of their city on our next visit to Italy. Treviso, here we come! In the meantime, back at home, we’ll have to evoke memories of the night with these delicious tozzetti: Tozzetti Printable Recipe Here 4 eggs, 1 cup sugar, 1 stick plus 3 T. butter, melted, 3 cups flour, 1 T. baking powder, 1 t. vanilla grated rind of 1/2 lemon, pinch of salt, 1 3/4 cup hazelnuts, roasted. Place eggs in mixer and beat with sugar. Add vanilla. Mix flour with baking powder, salt and lemon rind. Add to egg and sugar mixture, alternately with the melted butter, and mix until well blended. Rough chop the hazelnuts and add them to the dough, using a wooden spoon. Using a buttered cookie sheet or one lined with parchment paper, form the dough into small logs. I fit three “logs” on one cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes or until golden. Let them cool, then slice and rebake in a 425 degree oven for about 10 minutes, turning once. Stand by the oven and watch carefully so they don’t burn. Tozzetti 4 etti di nocciole tostate e schiacciate grossolanamente 4 uova 4 etti di farina 2 etti e mezzo di zucchero 1 etto e mezzo di burro fuso ( si può usare l’olio di oliva extra vergine con acidità max di 0,3 per averli ancora più leggeri) 1 bustina di pane degli angeli Scorza di un limone grattugiato Sbattere molto bene le uova con lo zucchero. Aggiungere nell’ordine la farina con il lievito, il burro, il limone, le nocciole frantumate grossolanamente. Aiutandosi con un cucchiaio ed una forchetta fare tre filoncini larghi circa 5 centimetri ed alti 2, metterli in una teglia antiaderente o appena imburrata ed infarinata. Passare in forno a 180 gradi per circa 15-20 minuti ( fino a quando all’esterno i panetti diventano leggermente abbronzati). Far raffreddare, poi tagliare fettine larghe poco più di un centimetro. Rimettere in forno e biscottare quanto basta da ambo le parti in modo da vederli appena abbronzati. Per fare bene queste operazioni occorrono solitamente tre teglie. E’ bene conservarli, una volta raffreddati, in un contenitore per alimenti chiuso ermeticamente.