I love pesto as much as the next guy, but what about using basil in some non-traditional way? When I saw anise basil growing in the fabulous schoolyard garden started by my friend Dorothy (along with about 40 other basil varieties), I knew I had to try making something sweet with it. So why not biscotti, since anise is a flavoring frequently used for cookies? I also added a little of the lemon and lime basil growing in the garden too, just because it seemed like a good combination. And it was. I used a good cup of the basil and the anise taste was subtle in the finished cookie. Next time I’d add even more to make the flavor more pronounced. The green color of the chopped basil held, even through the baking.
When I posted on Facebook that I was making basil biscotti, Marie of Proud Italian Cook, asked me if they were savory. “Hmmm,” I thought, “Why not try some of those too?” So I used the small-leafed basil growing in the garden (the kind Ligurians swear is the most pungent and best for pesto) and a recipe on Marie’s website that was originally in the Washington Post, created by Domenica Marchetti. Domenica has written several wonderful Italian cookbooks, including one on pasta that I’ve written about. I changed the recipe a bit to use parmesan cheese rather than asiago and pecorino, (since that’s all I had on hand) some chopped walnuts — and the basil of course. The results were fantastic – and addictive. I could eat dozens of these, with a glass of wine or a cocktail in hand. Try it for yourself. Even if all you don’t have anise basil, or the small leafed kind. Regular basil would be great too, especially in the savory biscotti.
This is my friend Lilli’s biscotti recipe that I’ve posted before. They’re the gold standard for biscotti.
The only difference this time is the addition of basil.
1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla
1 pinch salt
1 cup whole almonds, toasted ahead of time in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes
1 cup chopped basil (I used anise, plus a little lemon and lime basil)
Mix sugar and butter together until blended. Add eggs, one at a time. Add flour, baking powder, vanilla, and salt until all is blended. Scrape from the bottom to make sure everything is mixed in. The batter will be very stiff. Add the almonds (and dried cranberries if using) either with a durable wooden spoon, or with your mixer. Don’t mix for long if using a mixer since you don’t want to break up the almonds.
Mix sugar and butter together until blended. Add eggs, one at a time. Add flour, baking powder, vanilla, and salt until all is blended. Add the basil. Scrape from the bottom to make sure everything is mixed in. The batter will be very stiff. Add the almonds (and dried cranberries if using) either with a durable wooden spoon, or with your mixer. Don’t mix for long if using a mixer since you don’t want to break up the almonds.
Take about 1/3 of the mixture and plop it onto a well-floured counter or board. Shape into a “log” that resembles a small, flat loaf of bread, tapering the two ends at an angle. It’s a sticky dough, so you’ll need to keep your hands and board floured. Repeat two more times with the remainder of the dough. Butter a cookie sheet and place the “logs” on the cookie sheet, leaving ample room between them. Coat with a thin layer of milk or beaten egg. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until golden – about 25 to 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and turn the heat up to 450 degrees. Carefully place one of the “logs” on a cutting board, using two spatulas if necessary to keep it from splitting. With a sharp knife (I use a serrated knife) slice the cookies at a diagonal. Hold one hand firmly on the log while you cut with the knife in the other hand, so you don’t break the dough and crumble the cookies. A few are bound to break. Place the cookies back on a cookie sheet and bake at 450 degrees for about five minutes. Watch carefully so they don’t burn. Flip the cookies over and bake another five minutes on the other side. Makes about four dozen biscotti.
Savory Basil Biscotti – adapted from Domenica Marchetti
4 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt(Domenica calls for 1 cup of grated aged Asiago cheese and 1 cup of grated pecorino Romano, but I used 2 cups parmesan cheese)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup thinly sliced skin-on almonds (I used finely chopped walnuts)
3 large eggs lightly beaten, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten, for brushing the dough (4th egg is optional)
1 cup whole or 2 percent milk (I used skim milk)
1 cup basil, chopped finely
Combine the flour, pepper, baking powder, salt and cheeses in the bowl of a food processor; pulse briefly to combine. Add the butter and pulse briefly. Add the nuts and basil but do not process.
Combine the 3 beaten eggs and the milk in a measuring cup, then add to the food processor bowl, pulsing as you pour. Process just until the egg mixture and nuts are incorporated and the dough begins to form a ball. (This proved to be too much volume for my food processor. I had to switch to the mixer.)
Turn out the dough onto a large piece of wax paper, patting it into a disk. Wrap the disk in the paper and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight. (I baked it without refrigerating it first and it worked just fine.)
Position oven racks in the middle and lower third of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator; if it is very firm let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Divide into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a log about 11 inches long, 2 inches wide, and 3/4-inch to 1-inch thick. Place 2 logs on each baking sheet, spaced at least 1 inch apart. Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the tops of the logs with the remaining beaten egg, if using. Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the baking sheets from top to bottom; then bake for 15 minutes so the logs are golden on top and springy to the touch. Use a wide spatula to transfer the logs to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes; keep the baking sheets at hand because they will be used to bake the sliced biscotti.(Wipe the paper or liners clean as needed.)
Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Working with one log at a time, place it on a cutting board and use a serrated knife to cut crosswise on the diagonal with a slow, sawing motion into 1/3-inch-thick slices, arranging them closely together on the baking sheet as you go. Bake both sheets for 15 minutes (on the middle and lower racks), then rotate them from top to bottom and front to back; bake for 15 minutes, until the biscotti are golden and crisp. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.