Each time my friend Milena makes these cookies for our Italian chit-chat group, we are quick to gobble them down and always ask her how to make them. They’re perfect with a cup of espresso or a glass of wine. They’re crunchy and sweet because of the outside coating of sugar, but the red wine adds a complexity to the flavor. When the group met at my house recently, Milena agreed to a demonstration. Although Milena’s from La Spezia, in the region of Liguria, these cookies originate in the area between Rome and Naples called “La Ciociaria.”
If you know Italian women, many of them have pretty loose instructions when it comes to the amounts of the ingredients. “Quanto basta” is the expression frequently heard, which means “enough” or “as much as needed.” So it wasn’t a surprise when Milena uttered those words in speaking of the amount of flour required in the recipe. I finally pinned her down and she told me she actually wrote down the recipe for one of the cooking classes she taught years ago. Start out with one cup, but you’ll probably need from 4 to 4 1/2 cups of flour, depending on the humidity of the day. Keep adding enough until the dough becomes slightly stiff and sticky, like in the photo below.
It’s not that difficult to shape the cookies. You don’t put any additional flour on your hands or the board – but you have to be gentle as you roll them out, preferably on a wooden board. There’s a lot of oil in the dough, so some of it will come off on the board, which is a good thing, if you have a board as old and dry as mine. By the way, I learned a new Italian word while she was rolling out the dough – mastra. That’s the name used for these large boards that are used to knead and roll out pasta. Mine’s probably 75 years old or more, and I inherited it from my mother-in-law years ago.
You’ll want to roll each end toward the center (in opposite directions), then dip the rolled dough into some white sugar.
Place them on an ungreased cookie sheet at 350 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes. Keep checking them to make sure they’re slightly browned on the bottom.
They’ll keep for weeks in a covered container.
That is, unless your Italian chit-chat group is on its way over.
Milena’s red wine cookies
1 cup dry red wine (the better the wine, the better the cookies)
1 cup sugar
1 cup oil – Canola or some other mild seed oil
a pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. of baking soda
1/2 tsp. of baking powder
4 1/2 c. flour – (start with one cup but keep adding as much as necessary until you get a dough that has a thick consistency and can be easily rolled.)
more sugar for dipping
Place the red wine, oil, and sugar in a bowl and whisk together. Add the baking soda, baking powder, and the flour, sifting it into the bowl at little at a time. Stir with a wooden spoon, continuing to add more flour until it has a stiff consistency.
Gently roll out small pieces of the dough on a wooden board into a narrow “snake” shape – about 6 inches, the thickness of small finger. Then carefully swirl the ends toward the center, into an “S” shape. Dip into sugar and place on a cookie sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes, but keep checking. The cookies should be browned on the bottom and slightly on top.